Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Girl 'excluded from education' because schools can't cater for her autism and dyspraxia

Kirstie Greer with her dog PepsiKirstie Greer with her dog Pepsi
Kirstie Greer with her mum Nuala

A mother has told of her frustration that her daughter hasn't been to school in two years because there isn't one that can cater for her special needs.

Kirstie Greer from Bangor was three years old when she was diagnosed with a condition called dyspraxia.

And just three years ago she received a late diagnosis of autism.

Kirstie (16) has been home-schooled for the past two years because there are no schools that can offer her the help she needs. Kirstie attended a mainstream primary school but by primary seven she was being bullied.

However, her mum Nuala Greer (49) said that rather than dealing with the bullying, staff concentrated on Kirstie's reaction to it.

"The South Eastern Education and Library Board told us there was no suitable placement available, which effectively left her excluded from education," she said.

"It seems there's no school that can cater for her at her academic level and at the same time understand her condition. The board has labelled her aggressive and violent because of the way she has reacted to bullying or to people touching her, but what she needs is concern, understanding and awareness."

Kirstie became frustrated that she wasn't being taken seriously.

"I kept lashing out because no-one did anything about it," she said. "Nobody was listening to me and when I sorted it out myself I kept getting into trouble."

Nuala said she felt there was little understanding of Kirstie's difficulties and blamed a lack of training.

Kirstie eventually went on to a secondary school. "It took about five months before we got her into a new school. She was at home during that time with very little support; we were just learning the system then and we were very naive," Nuala said.

But as the bullying problems continued, Kirstie's parents became increasingly concerned for her well-being and removed her. When Kirstie was then placed in a second school, Nuala was forced to give up work.

"I just wasn't functioning," she said. "I was dropping Kirstie at school and waiting for my phone to ring which was happening quite a lot – getting phone calls to come early for her two, three times a week. It became impossible.

"I was getting phone calls from the point of view of concerns for her wellbeing. They didn't have the resources to manage her to that extent."

Autism charity Positive Futures is supporting Kirstie to help her get out of the house and meet other young people.

"They've made real inroads," said Nuala. "But that's because they treat her as a person, not just as another tick in a box. They understand her."

Nuala said since Kirstie's diagnosis they have made progress but she wants to highlight the lack of awareness of autism in schools.

"I just felt I had to speak out. We felt completely isolated," she said.

A spokeswoman for the South Eastern Education and Library Board said: "It is the policy of the SEELB not to comment on individual cases. But there are mechanisms in place to address concerns in relation to provision made as part of a statement."

The board said the issue can be raised with it as part of the annual review; an appeal can be made to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal or it can be referred to the disputes and resolution service.

FACTFILE: DYSPRAXIA EXPLAINED

Dyspraxia is a disability that can affect movement and co-ordination. When the brain processes information, the messages are not being properly or fully transmitted to other parts of the body. It affects the planning of what to do and how to do it, and is associated with problems of perception, language and thought. There may be an overlap with related conditions such as dyslexia and autism spectrum disorders. As with autism, people with dyspraxia may be over-or under-sensitive to certain sensory stimuli. Source: The National Autistic Society

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