Respect is what SEN pupils need

7th November 2003 at 00:00
It is time for children with special needs and their parents to be shown more respect by local education authorities and schools. Our son has a speech and language impairment, autistic traits and chronic fatigue - "hidden disabilities". He was only properly diagnosed once he had suffered a breakdown, manifesting itself in schoolphobia, anorexia and running away from school twice to potentially dangerous locations. In his 10 years of schooling we have encountered shortages of health professionals, poor monitoring and recognition of SEN, inadequate transition processes, lack of home tuition during periods of sickness, an inconvenient pupil referral unit and a general lack of empathy with our situation. Our son's illness and educational difficulties have drastically affected household income and caused unbelievable stress and exhaustion, not to mention time and costs involved in the ongoing battle for appropriate provision. Securing a statement is not necessarily the end of the saga. We had to wait about a year for the stipulated speech therapy and five months for the placement to be honoured. Add to this poor circulation and understanding of the statement, insufficient quantification and qualification, underfunding and a lack of training and you have a recipe for continuing problems.

I am not blaming the teachers or the learning support assistants who work hard for little reward, it is the system that is wrong. There are no penalties for authorities or schools failing to meet the child's legal entitlements and organisations such as the Disability Rights Commission have insufficient clout. Parents' only alternative is to seek legal assistance but this is time-consuming and costly. One of our neighbours recently spent over pound;10,000 in fees to appeal to tribunal, only to have the LEA back down at the last minute. She now works in her shop by day and local supermarket by night to recoup her losses. Can this be right? And is it right for charities like the National Autistic Society to be expending so much energy and finance in the pursuit of educational fairness? If special needs children and their families are treated with due respect, the educational costs will be repaid through employment and social acceptance.

RA Lever 120 Westway Raynes Park, London SW20

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