Act Now For Autism
Act Now For Autism welcomes the news that the SEN system is to be reformed as currently it is a very complicated system, which varies from region to region and leaves many autistic children without support in education. We agree it is absolutely right that the Government should seek to introduce a system for the right support to be put in place for children who need it.
However, we are deeply worried that, as seen in the media today, it appears the Government is geared up to place focus on supporting children who have the most severe needs or those who are considered to have the most need. We don't disagree with this as such but by whose definition will children be catagorised?
It has immediately made us think (and has generated lots of outraged feedback from our supporters) those going to be most at risk of missing out within the new system are going to be children with autism and associated conditions. Parents are currently having to fight for years to get a 'Statement' and much of the comments on our Facebook networks today have been from parents asking 'what if our children get pushed even further back in the queue', ' like with the changes to the disability element of Universal Credit, it's like they're not disabled enough'.
A recent National Autistic Society survey indicated that only 65% of children with autism do have a statement and although 18% without currently get some support through School Action Plus, 44% of parents told them they are dissatisfied with it.
Where will the SEN reform leave children with autism who do not have a statement who get support through School Action Plus? The new system will remove the two tiers of School Action and School Action Plus by combining them - this might indicate a downsizing of the needs of children with SEN who have a diagnosis of a neurological disorder, like autism. We have grave concerns for the children who get little or no support via School Action Plus as it exists now.
Ministers also plan to form an 'expert panel' to look at which children should be classed as having "behavioural, emotional and social development difficulties" in order to prevent these issues/problems being “overused” by schools. Can we be assured that there will be an expert on this panel who understands autism?
Autism is by definition a communication disorder manifesting in disordered social, emotional and behavioural development - what support will be put in place to ensure these children are given the protection and support in education they need?
Act Now For Autism and our supporters have many questions about the proposed reform of the SEN system: how will a parent get support or onto the 'register' if they are 'offloaded' when the changes are implemented? If their issues are labelled as a purely behavioural/ emotional what will then happen, what support will they get if any? Who decides? Who assesses? How long will it take? Who advocates for the child? (We will be writing to Sarah Teather (Children's Minister) to find out more.)
At the root of all this is how we define special needs; an additional need for support when learning is just that but it can be and often is very different to the issues faced by a child with a diagnosis, a disability. That child will have lifelong needs but specifically throughout education we have to ensure those needs are met and judged on an individual basis.
Parents should not have to continually fight for adequate support for lengthy periods - many parents we speak to daily have faced and are facing a huge battle to get their child the educational support they need.
There must to be a robust system in place to differentiate between children who require perhaps to be placed in 'nurture groups' and children who have fluctuating, disabling lifelong conditions like autism.