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School Refusal Assessment Scale & Interpretation

interpreting the school refusal assessment scaleIf your child has been showing signs of school refusal for a while, you might be ready to contact a mental health professional for help.

Accessing this type of support is a good thing, as a mental health professional can conduct a full evaluation of your child’s situation and offer valuable guidance.

What Is The School Refusal Assessment Scale?

One tool that a mental health professional might use is the School Refusal Assessment Scale-Revised (SRAS-R).

Leading researcher in school refusal, Christopher A. Kearney, first developed this tool in 1993 and revised it in 2002.

The SRAS-R is designed to measure the function of school refusal in children ages five and up. The results provide mental health professionals with reliable data about a child’s school refusal behaviors, which allows them to treat a child more effectively.

Four Functions Of School Refusal

According to Kearney, the SRAS-R examines four functions of school refusal:

1. Avoiding school because of stimuli that evoke negative emotions/responses

2. Avoiding aversive social or evaluative situations at school

3. Desiring attention from caregivers

4. Pursuing positive reinforcement outside of school

The first function involves the type of school refusal in which children complain of physical aches and pains because of something at school.

This commonly refers to younger children, who have an upset stomach prior to getting on the bus in the morning or who feel dizzy just walking into school.

Similarly, the second function also involves the type of school refusal that avoids situations that produce anxious or negative feelings.

This function occurs more often in older children, who want to avoid social interactions with peers or giving presentations in class.

The third function describes school-refusing children who seek connection and time with their primary caregivers. They might not be anxious about going to school, but instead, they are more anxious about being separated from their caregiver.

Separation anxiety disorder might be a contributing factor.

The fourth function describes school-refusing children who aren’t necessarily anxious about school-based stimuli, but rather seek positive reinforcement from activities or people outside of school.

In this case, children refuse school in favor of watching television, sleeping or spending time with friends.

How Is The School Refusal Assessment Scale Interpreted?

The SRAS-R provides empirical data that is valuable when developing your child’s school refusal treatment plan.

The SRAS-R is a 24-question survey, with six questions dedicated to each of the four functions.

Both children and parents take the assessment. For each question, children indicate how often they feel or behave a certain way, based on a Likert-style scale, from 0 (never) to 6 (always).

On their own survey, parents respond how often they witness their child behaving a certain way, using the same scale.

To interpret the SRAS-R, a mental health professional will first score parents’ and children’s assessments separately. On each assessment, the average score for each of the four functions will be calculated.

Then, the average scores from each assessment will be combined and divided by two. The function that ranks highest is considered the primary function, but two functions that score within .50 of each other are considered equal.

Mental health professionals will still consider lower-ranking functions when they design a treatment plan.

While this assessment provides useful data, it shouldn’t be the only information that mental health professionals use. They should consider interviews with the child and parents, records from school, insight from teachers, and more.

Kearney also suggests confirming SRAS-R results with behavioral observation or experimental analyses to ensure that the most effective school refusal treatment plan can be developed.

For example, an SRAS-R might indicate that a child’s primary function of school refusal is to avoid school because of aversive social or evaluative situations. After interviewing the child and teachers, it would appear useful to conduct an experiment: compare how the child behaves on days when there is a test or class presentation to how the child behaves on days when there is no test or class presentation.

This experiment helps verify more certainly the child’s primary function of school refusal. As a result, a mental health professional will be able to determine a more effective course of treatment.

How Does the SRAS-R Help with School Refusal Treatment?

Mental health professionals can use the results of the SRAS-R to design a treatment plan for a school-refusing child. They can help the child reduce anxieties and work with parents to implement at-home strategies that will manage school-refusing behaviors.

Treatment can involve a combination of therapies that include, but are not limited to:

  • Cognitive Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Exposure Therapy
  • Behavior Management
  • Social Skills Training

Evaluating Your Child With The School Refusal Assessment Scale

If your child exhibits school refusal symptoms, the SRAS-R is a great tool to help you better understand their challenges, as well as gain insight on how to help them through their struggle.

Every child’s situation is different, so every treatment plan will be uniquely designed, too. Upon an assessment and the development of a treatment plan, your mental health professional will help you figure out the best plan for your child to re-enter school in the healthiest way possible.

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