Obtaining much-needed support at school for children with autism, can be demoralising and draining for families, writes Robert Buckland MP.
As chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism (APPGA) and as a parent of a child with autism, I am delighted that we have secured a debate on the floor of the House this week to discuss the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system and its support for young people on the autism spectrum.
I know only too well the challenges that this condition can pose for the families and the children affected. Obtaining much-needed support at school can be demoralising and draining for an unacceptable number of families across the UK. You should not have to fight a war to obtain even the most basic support for your child.
The Government is taking welcome steps to reform our SEN system so that children with autism and SEN can access the education they must receive to prepare them for an enriching and independent life after they leave school. I commend these reforms but still more must be done.
Writing as an MP, I know just how hard parents, teachers, teaching assistants and other support staff work to help children with autism and SEN; their efforts must be applauded. Regrettably, we still see too many examples where families are left by the wayside, worried about their child’s future. We still hear of instances where teachers are not being trained properly or given the right resources to help these children.
The APPGA has recommended that the Government should continue the funding for specialist training programmes for teachers. It should also ensure that all children with autism, with or without a Statement, have access to the support needed. The reforms should bring schools and local authorities together to work closely with the parents. Finally, parents should have access to an effective complaints system for the support their children receive. Without confidence in the system underpinned by accountability, the Government’s reforms will not achieve their objections.
I hope that in this debate we can make sure that all children with autism and SEN thrive at school in future. The statistics bear witness that this problem cannot go on. A quarter of children with autism do not obtain any form of education or training after they leave school. A quarter of graduates with autism are unemployed - the highest amongst any disability group. Fewer than one in seven adults with autism are in full-time employment.
The SEN system must be improved if we are to tackle these shocking statistics. People with autism and SEN have just the same aspirations, desire to contribute to society and enter the workplace as any other person. Tomorrow should be an opportunity to call for this problem to be tackled once and for all.
Response: National Autistic Society
As the Government embarks on the biggest reform of the Special Educational Needs (SEN) system in 30 years, today's debate on autism is particularly timely to raise awareness among parliamentarians of how to ensure that these changes meet the specific needs of children with autism.
There are an estimated 88,000 school aged children with autism in England and the vast majority of them are in mainstream schools, meaning that every teachers should be prepared to teach a child with autism. This is why the National Autistic Society believes there should be a lead teacher on autism in every school to support other teachers to meet the needs of children with autism in their class. With the right support at the right time children with autism can and do flourish at school.