A recent Ofsted report found schools were over-diagnosing special educational needs (SEN) among students. But not enough has been said about educational provision for those who do have special needs and the knock-on impact on health and well-being.
On the face of it, a student with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) may demonstrate some of the same traits as a student with attention deficit hyperactive disorder or may appear to be just a “naughty school boy” so there needs to be better training for those working in schools and colleges to identify SEN.
But for the parents of a child on the autistic spectrum, the battle to secure funding, support and recognition of their son or daughter’s “special education needs”, can be frustrating and exhausting. Statistics from the National Autistic Society show that more than 50% of children with autism are not in the kind of school their parents believe would best support them; 40% have been bullied and one in five has been excluded from school.
To compound the problem, securing funding for post-16 further education is another stressful hurdle for parents at a time when adolescents on the autistic spectrum are vulnerable to transition issues.
Yet the right support and education can make a huge difference. One of our recent students arrived as a frightened, withdrawn teen with an eating disorder who had stopped speaking. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, but within two years with us he was speaking again and left college, at the age of 21, with a good GCSE in art and design, and a work placement at Tesco. He is now in secure employment.
It is vital that the Green Paper on disabled children and SEN allows parents the choice of education for their child, simplifies the process of securing statements and funding and creates a national framework of special needs entitlement to end to the current postcode lottery of provision.
Darren Jackson is principal of Beechwood College, a residential college for students over 16 who have an autistic spectrum disorder or Asperger’s syndrome
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