A recent report by the National Autistic Society, polling 4,000 parents, carers, and autistic children has found that more than half of families wait more than a year for the right educational support, and a quarter wait more than three years.
Sadly, this is something we see routinely in the casework of our Education Law team at Bindmans. We have represented families who have not only waited years for the right education, but for any education. Some children with autism are simply bounced around the system, being told that they cannot learn in mainstream school, but that there are no special school places for them to go to, leaving them with nothing.
This means that families often have no choice but to fight a legal challenge and, even though these challenges have strong rates of success, they can themselves take a long time and cause further damaging delays to young people at a critical time in their life.
This can be compounded by the fact that autistic children can wait years even for a diagnosis. Whilst they wait, they are without support. What’s more, we have seen occasions where professionals point to parenting as an explanation for behavioural difficulties displayed by an autistic child, whilst their diagnosis is delayed.
All these factors come together to create a years long and truly nightmarish ordeal for families who are stuck without support, in the middle of legal proceedings, and trying in vain to convince professionals of the need for help; all whilst their child’s peers enjoy a fulfilling and engaged education.
The findings of the National Autistic Society are hugely important, they show that this is a situation that is only getting worse. The government should recognise the scale of the shortage in Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND) provision immediately, and give our education system the funds it needs for all children to succeed, from diagnosis through to the classroom. Families have now been waiting years for the government’s SEND review, which is supposed to be a comprehensive analysis of how the system is currently working, and what needs to change. This has been delayed time and time again, with the Department for Education showing no sign of acknowledging how urgent this situation is, and how damaging more delays will be for thousands of children across the country.
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