School avoidance, also known as school refusal and school phobia, is defined by Stanford Children’s Hospital as “a term used to describe the signs of anxiety a school-aged child has and his or her refusal to go to school.” The infrequent refusal to go to school is normal, but when this becomes a routine problem for a young person, it may be indicative of school avoidance. The natural consequences of a young person repeatedly missing school are obvious (e.g., falling behind academically, diminished self-confidence, social isolation, friendship difficulties, etc.). School avoidance is not uncommon, and data suggests that school refusal occurs among 2 to 4% of all children, from early childhood through high school.
School avoidance is not a disorder, but rather it presents as a symptom experienced by a young person. It is not uncommon for an adolescent who is experiencing school avoidance to have previously struggled with social anxiety, depression, undiagnosed learning disabilities, and or has a history of separation anxiety. There are also several situational reasons (e.g., bullying, divorce, moving, death of a loved one, difficulty getting along with teachers, lacking friends, etc.) that can be a part of why an adolescent may develop school avoidance. There are several reasons that can contribute to a young person’s refusal to attend school, but the result is the same: going to extreme lengths to avoid going to school.