Mother’s fears for son’s future

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A LOCAL mother has spoken of her fears for her autistic son’s future after a report published earlier this month suggested the way children’s educational needs are determined could be changed.

The mother, whose 16-year-old son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and currently has the help of a dedicated classroom assistant in school, said she saw the Minister for Education’s announcement about changes to the Special Education Needs (SEN) policy as nothing more than “a cost-cutting exercise” and added that, as she sees it, schools are struggling to cope as it is.

The Department said the review was carried out because of delays in children being assessed, significant increases in the numbers of children being recorded with special needs, rising costs and greater pressures on school staff.

John O’Dowd referred to the report which suggested the five-stage process pupils undergo to determine whether they get “statements” of SEN, guaranteeing specific educational support, will become a two-stage process.

Ahead of her son’s annual SEN review later this month the mother - who did not wish to be named to protect her son’s identity - said she feels the changes are not good news for children like her son.

“It’s people like my son who will be worst affected,” said the local mum. “They will be told they are not severe enough to get that help anymore. But yet it’s people like my son who are going to be expected to leave school, get a job and pay tax even though they are not willing to pay to help them get to that stage.

“It is my fear that people at my son’s level will be told they have to make do with the classroom setting without any extra or individual help.”

And the mother said she feels teachers are already under too much pressure, without having to deal with extra educational needs by themselves.

“I really think teachers have enough to do without this,” she added. “They are more or less going to be left to cope with those with extra needs while teaching the rest of the class as far as I can see.”

Speaking after the report’s publication, Mr O’Dowd said, “I am acutely aware that we are dealing with a very sensitive and emotive issue, particularly for the families and loved ones of young children with special educational needs.

“I want to improve the educational experience of children with SEN or a disability and ensure that all children and young people in our schools receive the support they need to enable them to reach their full potential.

“I want to re-assure parents that statutory support for their children will not be scrapped. Instead, my proposals will see Co-ordinated Support Plans (CSPs) put in place to support those children with a special educational need. CSPs will reduce the length of time a child has to wait to receive support and will have a clear focus on improving educational outcomes and expectations.”