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(UK) NI: Autistic teen may leave school without classroom aide

Aug 16, 2023, BBC News: Special educational needs: Teen with autism may have to quit school
A teenager with autism may have to abandon their GCSEs if a classroom assistant is not made available for the start of the school term.

Toni Humphreys' family asked for help in March but the Education Authority (EA) still has not finalised support.

"Without a classroom assistant I really struggled to stay focused and stay on task with work," Toni told BBC News NI.

The EA said it continued to work to support all children with a statement of special educational needs (SEN).

Toni, who uses they/them pronouns, was first diagnosed with autism four years ago at the age of 12.

They have already had to repeat the first year of their GCSE studies, and said that initially having a part-time classroom assistant had made a difference in school.

Toni said autism could cause them to "get very panicky" when feeling overwhelmed.

"Having a classroom assistant with me to ground me, and help me know I have someone there to look out for me and be able to support me, helps me get to classes a lot better," Toni said.

"Without a classroom assistant I really struggle to get into classes or speak to people even, because I feel like I'm not being listened to and that I'm not going to get support I need to be able to function well in school."

Future career plans

A review of Toni's SEN statement on 2 March included a request for them to get support from a classroom assistant full-time to enable them to study for their GCSEs in Year 12.

An SEN statement is a legal document, which sets out a child's needs and the support they should have in school.

Toni's father Michael Humphreys said he had contacted the EA a number of times since March to get clarity.

"We started getting a bit nervous in June," he said.

Toni's father Michael Humphreys said it was "disconcerting" that a review had not begun two weeks before the new term

"Obviously school stops, the teachers and the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) are off and we still hadn't heard….

They said they would have hoped for advance warning from the EA on whether they would get a classroom assistant so they could "plan accordingly" for either staying in school or giving it up.

"I almost had to drop out two years ago but then the school were really helpful. So I'm really hoping that it doesn't come to that again.

"It really helps to know things in advance so I can both mentally and emotionally prepare for it."

In a statement to BBC News NI, an EA spokesperson said it "continues to work to ensure all children with a statement of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) receive a placement and support which fully meets their needs to ensure that they are happy, learning and succeeding, and this remains our top priority".

"We fully understand the anxiety of parents/carers and the impact on those children and young people awaiting confirmation of support for September and are firmly committed to continuing to keep families fully informed during August."

Jen says Rio hasn't had access to education or free school meals for a year.Credit: ITV Calendar


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