Northern Ireland’s educational system is letting down thousands of children with autism, a damning report has revealed
The shocking new research carried out by the National Autistic Society Northern Ireland (NASNI) shows that almost one in three parents feel that the education their autistic child receives is not adequate.
The report also shows that more than 80% of parents with children diagnosed with the condition say a lack of support has harmed their children’s social and communication skills.
And worryingly, a further 65% of those surveyed said that a lack of support had affected their child’s mental health.
Of the 7,000 children with autism in Northern Ireland, more than half this number wait for more than a year for appropriate educational support.
Many parents said they had to “battle to secure their child’s fundamental right to an education”.
NASNI is now calling on MLAs to consider the needs of children with autism as they debate the reforms to the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system.
The report coincides with the charity’s launch of the A* for Autism campaign, which highlights failings in the education of autistic children here.
Among the key findings of the survey were that almost one in five parents (18%) said they had been asked to take their child home early or at lunchtime for a reason other than sickness, with over 14% of parents reporting that this had happened on more than three occasions.
And almost 10% of parents reported that their child had missed between half a term and one full school year.
Another 5% reported that their child had missed school for one year or more.
There were various reasons for these absences, ranging from anxiety and nerves to bullying by other pupils and teachers because of the child’s autism.
Other key findings showed that 49% of parents also said that they did not have enough information when choosing an educational placement for their child.
Shirelle Stewart, co-director of NASNI, said: ”Every area of Northern Ireland needs to have education provision that understands autism.
“It is completely unacceptable that parents have to battle to secure a child’s fundamental right to an education.
“The proposed reforms to the SEN system will shape the future of a generation of children so the Assembly must listen to parents when they say that the system must do better.”
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means it affects people in different ways. But everyone with autism shares three main areas of difficulty — social interaction, social communication and social imagination. Children with autism may also be over or under-sensitive to external stimuli. It is estimated that one in 100 people in Northern Ireland has autism.
Laura Nightingale (37) from Newtownards, Co Down, is married to John and is mum to three children: Alexander (8), Rebecca (6) and Lucas (2). Alexander was diagnosed with autism when he was four. The couple then contacted the Education Board to obtain a statement setting out his special educational needs to begin primary school in September 2007. She says:
“It was not a very positive experience. The process was very, very slow and two days before Alexander was to leave nursery we still had not received a statement.
“(From own initiative) he attended a MLD for three years and then was moved to a mainstream primary. School is now a constant battle for Alexander.
“The other children, whilst mostly kind, do not understand him and don’t want to spend time with him.
“At the MLD school he regularly scored (above) 80% — this has dropped to 40%.
“At our last (school) review, all present agreed that Alexander needs more help. But none were optimistic ... because of budget constraints.
“We want accessible, suitable, education provision for him and others like him — so that they may access education to flourish and find their way to become positive and productive members of society.
“I think children like my son are being failed by the current education system and it needs to change.”