School Absences


Children on the autism spectrum benefit from structure and routine, and missing any time from school can be very disruptive. In particular, your child will be missing out on the educational programing you so carefully helped develop. If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), this may mean that your child has less time to work on goals which you and the IEP team decided were important.

Nonetheless, sometimes your child will be sick and will need to miss school. Be sure to call to let the school know your child will be absent. If your child has a contagious illness, tell the school what it is and when you first observed the symptoms. Without disclosing personal information about your child, the school will let other families know what symptoms to be on the lookout for in their children.

When is your child too sick to go to school? If your child has a fever, diarrhea, or is vomiting, keep him or her home for the day. Similarly, your child should not go to school if he or she has a rash or if you suspect pink eye. These conditions should be evaluated by a doctor before your child is around other children. Use your judgment with coughs, stomach aches, and ear or throat pain. Sometimes these conditions can be indicative of a more serious condition (for instance, an ear infection or strep throat). In general, if your child seems sluggish and doesn’t seem interested in playing or doing his or her usual activities, keep him or her home and call a doctor as needed.

But be observant to see why your child is missing school. Is he or she really sick? Or could there be something else driving the absences from school? Students on the autism spectrum may be anxious about attending school, which may lead to genuine aches or pains. This doesn’t make them any less significant, but they should be handled differently than a stomach ache caused by a virus. Your child’s pediatrician can help you determine the true cause. Some students will feign injuries or aches to be able to stay home (or be sent home by the school nurse) in order to do a preferred activity, such as watching TV, playing a video game, or spending time alone with Mom or Dad. Allowing your child to stay home may reinforce the desire to escape an unpreferred situation, rather than addressing it and finding a solution. Open communication between your family and medical providers will be important to making sure your child is healthy and getting the support he or she needs.

Public schools have attendance requirements. If your child is absent excessively, he or she may not be allowed to move to the next grade. There may be legal consequences as well.

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Last Updated: May 29, 2020

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.

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