Autism: Finding a Stable Educational Environment


One of our expert special educational needs solicitors has recently settled a tribunal appeal for a 15 year old boy with severe autism. There are aspects of this case that parents may find familiar, or have gone through themselves. If this is the case, rest assured, there is a solution to your problem.

Finding the Right School

The boy concerned had made very little academic progress over the last 8 years and his parents realised he needed to be in a school which could provide him with the consistency he needed. Like many young people with autism, he has difficulties with generalisation i.e. he found it difficult to apply things he had learnt in school to activities at home and vice versa.

Where this is the case, the most appropriate solution can be for them to attend a residential school so that care staff and teachers can work together to ensure that all teaching is consistently and constantly reinforced in informal situations. The boy's parents wanted him to go to a nearby residential school to help him learn new skills while still remaining within relatively easy reach of his family. Despite continual pressure on the school and local authority for the previous 4 years, little was being done to remedy the situation before Simpson Millar became involved. The parents felt they were simply being ignored and their son's ability to develop and learn was suffering as a result.

Severe autism in itself is not a diagnosis but rather, it is used to describe the level at which the child diagnosed with autism functions and the level of their needs. In many of the cases with which we deal, although parents are desperate to keep their children at home and attending a day school, they may come to realise that this is not the best for their child, and are then left with the difficulty of persuading the local authority to pay for an expensive residential place. Although this request is nearly always rejected initially by local authorities because of the cost involved, if parents can show that their child’s behaviour is severely challenging and needs a specialist setting or they are failing to learn because of their need for consistency to encourage generalisation of skills, places can be obtained through a tribunal appeal.

Sometimes, as in this case a place is obtained by negotiation, just before the hearing is due to take place.

Late Mediation Leads to Victory

A tribunal hearing was scheduled to challenge the local authority's decision to prevent the boy from going into a residential school. A late mediation meeting shortly before this was due to take place and was instrumental in getting the authority to focus their minds on the weakness of their position and avoiding the need for a tribunal hearing.

We were able to secure a residential placement at a specialist school at a cost to the authority of £165,000 per annum. The school in question takes pupils up to the age of 19, allowing him to settle into the school and begin to work on improving his communication skills. Every child deserves a stable educational environment so they can develop and grow to the best of their ability – the battle is making sure that this happens.

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