Can resilience act as a protective factor against school refusal in bullied autistic youth?

Apr 28 2022

Key Takeaway:

School-wide interventions that reduce bullying can also reduce school attendance problems. Interventions in this area should also be targeted towards autistic youth as they experience a high rate of school refusal linked to the bullying occurring in school settings. Identification of attributes such as the ability to maintain control when angry and the ability to control negative thoughts can help protect this population from school refusal and may be a potential pathway for effective interventions.—Ayla Reau 

School Refusal

School refusal (SR) is “characterized by a young person’s reluctance or refusal to attend school in conjunction with emotional distress.” This is typically measured on a threshold for absence or difficulty attending over a certain period. Emerging school refusal (ESR) is the term used to describe the period before these thresholds are reached. Absence from school can negatively impact “academic achievement and socio-emotional outcomes, contribute to family stress, and place extra burden on school staff,” so early intervention is key for students exhibiting ESR. 

Bullying, ASD, and Psychological Resilience

It is widely accepted that being bullied is associated with SR in youth. Youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are especially vulnerable to bullying in mainstream settings, which could explain the “high rate of SR among autistic youth.” Therefore, there is a need for interventions that reduce SR and ESR among bullied youth. 

“Psychological resilience refers to an individual’s capacity to resist the harmful effects of adverse stressors and to resume functioning despite them.” It has been associated with “reduced anxiety and depression among autistic boys, parents who have an autistic child, and non-autistic siblings of a young autistic person.” The current study focuses on the link between psychological resilience and ESR in bullied autistic youth, and data was collected through an online questionnaire completed by 58 young autistic males. 

Major Findings

Overall, the “identification of attributes that can help protect bullied autistic youth from engaging in school refusal may be a potential pathway to effective interventions for these young people.” Further studies are needed to determine whether psychological resilience acts as a protective factor against ESR and SR in bullied autistic youth and/or whether the experience of bullying leads to increased resilience and a decreased likelihood of SR happening over time. Regardless, educators and school administrators should carry out school-wide interventions that reduce bullying in order to reduce school attendance problems and foster a sense of well-being and safety at school. 

Summarized Article:

Bitsika, V., Heyne, D. A., & Sharpley, C. F. (2022). The inverse association between psychological resilience and emerging school refusal among bullied autistic youth. Research in developmental disabilities, 120, 104121. 

Summary by: Ayla Reau—Ayla is excited to help continue to grow the MARIO Framework, seeing the potential for it to impact all students across any educational context.

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