Belfast Telegraph

Little autistic girl misses school place after assessment delay

Parents left frustrated as Olivia (4) now faces daily two-hour round trip

By Cate McCurry

A Co Down couple are struggling to find a primary school for their autistic daughter after they were forced to wait eight months for an assessment of her condition.

Brian Marshall and his wife Christine said the only suitable school where four-year-old Olivia had been accepted would mean a two-hour round trip from their home in Millisle.

However, the family lives just a few miles from Killard House School in Donaghadee, which caters for autistic children.

Olivia was diagnosed with autism two years ago, as well as global development delay and hypermobility syndrome, which affects the joints and means she has difficulty walking.

The Education Authority insisted on carrying out its own educational assessment of the little girl's issues, causing a delay and meaning Olivia missed out on her parents' preferred school.

Last December, the family moved back from Australia, where Olivia's parents had spent thousands of pounds to ensure their daughter's condition would be officially recognised by any country.

"We lived in Australia for two years and while we were there we got Olivia globally diagnosed with autism - that means worldwide recognised - so if we took her to any country they would accept that diagnosis," dad Brian explained.

"We got a lot done before we came home, so we could get her into school without any issues. We came home in December thinking we would travel back early and try and get everything organised so we could get her into school for this September.

"But when we got home, we were told that regardless of her previous assessments, we would have to have a Northern Ireland-based assessment too."

The parents were told that applications for Killard House School started in May, with places usually filled within weeks.

Brian and Christine visited the school in February, and after deciding it was suitable for Olivia put her name forward for a spot.

However, they were then told that Olivia would have to undergo a formal assessment process by the Education Authority.

"They said it has to be their own assessment," Brian said.

"We explained that all the assessments had been done by the book. We spent more than £3,000 in Australia so she wouldn't have to go through all of it again. The process took eight months and came out with the exact same outcome, but because of that delay Olivia missed out on her place.

"She may have to travel an hour each way every day to Dundonald instead of five minutes around the corner. A child with special needs will be left upset by all that travel," she said.

"She will be sitting on her own on the bus and we don't know how Olivia will react to this. We find it completely unacceptable that the school around the corner is not available."

The Belfast Telegraph contacted the Education Authority, but no response was provided.

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