Refusal to attend school due to separation anxiety and/or school phobia: A Queensland study

Murphy, Julia (1999). Refusal to attend school due to separation anxiety and/or school phobia: A Queensland study PhD Thesis, Graduate School of Education, The University of Queensland.

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Author Murphy, Julia
Thesis Title Refusal to attend school due to separation anxiety and/or school phobia: A Queensland study
School, Centre or Institute Graduate School of Education
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1999
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 207
Language eng
Subjects 1399 Other Education
Formatted abstract
In most western countries, the incidence of school refusal has been estimated at 1.7% of the general school-age population. Although this figure indicates that relatively few children suffer from school refusal, numerous articles have been written on the subject. Up until 1980 the ratio of articles was 25 to one compared to articles written about other childhood psychiatric problems. This may be because of the disagreement and confusion that exists about various aspects of school refusal ( i . e . , aetiological  factors, classification, treatment methods) or because no particular theoretical explanation of school refusal has been unanimously accepted by researchers.  Separation anxiety, however, appears to predominate as a major causal factor and is present in 75-80% of cases of school refusal.

Researchers at the Harvard Infant Study Laboratory have suggested that separation anxiety (or other of the childhood anxiety disorders) may be preceded by behavioural inhibition. Children may, in fact, have a temperamental quality that predisposes them first to behavioural inhibition followed by separation anxiety. It seems reasonable to assume, therefore, that behaviourally inhibited children could be at-risk for separation anxiety followed by school refusal. If behaviourally inhibited children could be identified at kindergarten/preschool, their transition into Year One (the first year of school) could be eased, and possible school adjustment problems averted.

This project examines the issues mentioned immediately above. Three studies were conducted: Study One, involving 211 Year One children from 12 Brisbane state schools, set a baseline of behaviours against which children in the following two studies could be evaluated; Study Two involved 25 children identified as behaviourally inhibited, and 25 identified as uninhibited, by kindergarten/preschool staff then rated by teachers through to the end of Semester One, Year One; and Study Three involved six children and adolescents who had been treated for school refusal at either the Child and Family Therapy Unit, Brisbane, or the Caboolture Child and Youth Mental Health Service Clinic.

Findings from the studies suggest that the early identification of behaviourally inhibited children by kindergarten/preschool staff could have implications for these children's future school adjustment. Findings also suggest a need for studies to examine behavioural inhibition as a precursor to separation anxiety followed by school refusal.
Keyword School attendance
Separation anxiety in children
School phobia
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