Calls for government help after autism deaths

5th May 2006 at 01:00
Charities working with children with autism and their families are calling for more government help for families, and more training for teachers.

"We have to get the Government to recognise its responsibilities and develop specific policies," said Hugh Morgan, chief executive of Autism Cymru.

Mike Collins, head of education at the National Autistic Society, called for a formal training package for all Sencos. "By bringing it through the Senco route that would ensure someone with training in every school," he said.

The national focus on autism came after the tragic deaths of Alison Davies and her 12-year-old son Ryan, who was autistic. They are believed to have travelled from their home in Stockport to Hull and jumped from the Humber Bridge.

Rose Marie Mason, who lives in north London, and whose three sons are autistic, can empathise with the stress faced by Alison Davies. "Eoin and Sean were diagnosed when they were 5," she said. "Their behaviour was atrocious."

Sean is currently out of school and still does not speak, but Mason's two other sons are bright and articulate, and studying for exams at local mainstream schools.

Partnership with school

"There needs to be a partnership between the school and the home; teachers need to know what the condition involves, but they also need to know that each child is an individual," said Mason.

The National Autistic Society will shortly launch a national campaign to maintain the focus on the condition. "All teachers should receive some training, perhaps during their induction year if it can't be fitted into the PGCE," said Mike Collins. He argues that what is good practice for children with autism is good practice for all children.

The NAS uses a framework for responding to the needs of children and adults with an autistic spectrum disorder. One of the components is the link between agencies, teachers and the home.

"Open links... between parents and teachers will provide a holistic approach and reduce the possibility of unhelpful misunderstanding or confusion or the adoption of fragmented, piecemeal approaches," says the NAS guidance.

The Humber Bridge deaths come four-and-a-half years after Helen Rogan, another mother struggling to cope with the needs of her autistic son, threw herself and 11-year-old Mark to their deaths from a railway viaduct in County Durham.

Those deaths were followed by a report commissioned by County Durham child protection service, which called on agencies to develop a "despair-proof"

support system for children and young people "with complex and challenging behaviour".

PROGRESS IS BEING MADE

Autism agencies recognise that awareness and acceptance of the condition have improved, and that progress is being made.

"When I first joined the NAS, autism was not even in the special needs code of practice; it is now. We have had conversations with the DfES about training, and we gave evidence to the parliamentary select committee this year," said Mike Collins.

Hugh Morgan said that the Welsh Assembly will shortly be launching a Welsh strategy for autism. Meanwhile, Autism Cymru was adopted as the charity for 2006 by the Welsh language TV channel S4C. An international conference in Cardiff next week (from May 10) will bring speakers from around the world to focus on the condition.

* Teachers call for training on autism - see page 2

* For further information on the Autism Cymru conference contact 02920 463263 or see www.awares.org

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