Education system risks writing off a generation of autistic youngsters

The mother of an autistic 14-year-old girl who was out of mainstream schooling for more than two and a half years said her daughter has been failed by the local authority (LA).

Jessica Lewis has always struggled to cope with the everyday pressures of school life due to her condition, her mum Tracey Lewis, from Southampton, said.

The school day often caused her to become so distressed and anxious she would “ultimately shut down” and it would take “hours” to calm her down, the mother-of-four said.

On one occasion, she was so upset she cut her arms with a pair of scissors which “highlighted that she wasn’t coping in a school environment and needed a specialist provision”.

Tracey said: “There began my long stressful journey with the Local Authority to get Jessica the school that could meet her needs.

“I was told by the LA that by the second week of January 2022, I would receive a list of alternative schools that would be appropriate to Jessica’s needs.

“A few weeks had passed, and we still hadn’t received this list, despite me calling Jessica’s caseworker at the LA weekly.

“So, I decided to take matters into my own hands, and fight for a place at a local school for Jessica.”

Ms Lewis said the first step was mediation with the LA. A date was set but just the day before, she was contacted and told it wasn’t going ahead as they “didn’t have the authority to say yes because of the high costs” of the school she wanted.

She added: “I was told that my next option was to apply to Tribunal, which is what I did, a date was set for July 2022.

“The LA finally came up with a suggested school in March 2022. We went to visit but we were told by the school that there wasn’t a space for her. A totally wasted visit, which again was mentally draining for Jessica.

“The tribunal was pushed back to the end of September, it lasted for half an hour with the judge deciding that Jessica would get her chosen school.

“We were elated. All the stress, emails, phone calls, the constant chasing had all been worth it.

“I naively thought that within a few weeks, Jessica would finally be back in school getting the education and support that she deserves, how wrong was I?

“Four months on and Jessica is still not in school.

“She is a very intelligent young lady, and she has been failed and this is utterly heartbreaking.

“Sadly, this is true for many children, I have friends who have battled similar and are currently going through similar experiences.”

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