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Shocked mum sparks probe after autistic son (11) tells of getting stoned on cannabis at Northern Ireland school

By Claire O'Boyle

A distraught mother has revealed how her 11-year-old autistic son confessed to smoking cannabis at school.

The Belfast woman, who we have agreed to name only as Charlene to protect her vulnerable son's identity, says she is horrified to learn what the Year 8 pupil has been exposed to.

"My son is just out of primary school and he shouldn't even know what cannabis is," said Charlene, whose son attends Breda Academy in south Belfast.

"But he told me he has been stoned at school on more than one occasion, that older fourth year boys gave him the drugs and even rolled them up into a cigarette for him - and he's doing all of this when he should be in a safe environment."

Charlene's son is on the autistic spectrum and the youngster also has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He has recently been seeing a counsellor because of concerns over his mental health, and it was through these sessions the revelations came to Charlene's attention.

She said: "Part of his personality that seems to be related to his condition is that he just can't tell lies or keep secrets, and afterwards he and the counsellor told me what they'd discussed.

"I couldn't believe it, I was absolutely devastated that my little boy had smoked cannabis. He even told me he was 'stoned'. How does an 11-year-old even know that word?

"How can this be happening at one of our schools?"

Charlene's concerns with her son's education began soon after he started the school last September - but the latest incident has meant she is now withdrawing him.

"I've got the wheels in motion to get him into another school," said Charlene, who has been signed off work from her job in finance due to the stress of the situation.

"I just can't risk having my boy exposed to that kind of thing. How could I live with myself?" she said.

"I've had to carry on sending him in the meantime because parents are pretty much powerless to keep their kids away from school, but the moment I can get him into somewhere else in the next couple of weeks, I will.

"My son's issues are complex, and he came from a fantastic primary school where he had good support and extra help a couple of days a week to suddenly nothing, like being thrown to the lions.

"I'm not making excuses for him and he's not been an angel. He's got into a fight, he's been caught smoking cigarettes, and now this.

"But the fact is, he's slower than other children, physically and mentally, so when it comes to things like getting from one class to another on time and even writing down what he's got for homework, he's not as quick.

"Instead of allowing for a little more time, he was almost instantly disciplined over things like missed homework, which he'd simply forgotten about.

"He received numerous detentions, he was sent to isolation, he was forced to stand outside a science class for 35 minutes as his classmates did practical work. These things are very hard for a young boy who already has a lot of issues to deal with."

Even more distressing was an incident in February that saw the youngster end up in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

"He came home after school with a blazing rash on his face," said Charlene, who has another son still in primary school.

"I rushed him to the GP thinking it could be meningitis and we were sent straight up to the Royal. But when we were there it came out a boy in his year had throttled him so badly he'd cut off the air to his face and this awful rash came out. I told the school about it when I took him back, but even now I don't know what action was taken against the boy responsible.

"I thought that was as bad as things could get, but finding out my 11-year-old child has been exposed to drugs at school is the last straw."

Breda Academy head teacher Matthew Munro said the school had been in touch with the PSNI having received this information.

"We will be undertaking a thorough investigation into these allegations and plan to take any appropriate action, disciplinary or supportive, against any students found to have been involved", he said, adding that the drugs matter had not been reported to to the school by the parent or the pupil until yesterday.

"I understand, as would many parents, the difficulties some children face when moving from primary school to secondary school. It can be unsettling, especially with a disability. We have had numerous meetings with this parent and her son to address issues as and when they have arisen. With regards to the incident between this parent's son and another pupil, we quickly dealt with this issue as we would with any other matter of a similar nature, and have been in regular contact with the parent and pupil since. At Breda Academy we pride ourselves in offering a caring and supportive environment for pupils and have an excellent pastoral care system. We would like to be made aware of any issues that may arise in order to deal with these as best we can."

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