He is different not less


Every child is entitled to an education in the UK. It is taken for granted that your child will attend nursery and then progress usually to their local primary, for some of us we’re not so lucky.

Before Reilly turned 1 we registered him with our local mainstream schools nursery, it’s common practice, get their names down to make sure they have a place. Months passed and we eventually got a letter to go and see the nursery and meet the teachers. July 2014 Reilly was about to turn 3 one of the youngest in his year. I knew the nursery and the teachers well I’d lived in the schools grounds from the age of 11 as my dad was the caretaker and things 1 & 2 both had attended and loved it.

I’d taken Reilly to a playgroup at the school a few times he was reluctant to go in, stuck to me like glue and stood at the door crying for the small amount of time we stayed. Obviously I was given the old chestnut advice “make him stay, he’ll not learn if you take him out” I had the looks when he wouldn’t sit at the table for snack time. The look that says look at my child sitting perfectly eating his apple while yours upsets him by crying and making a scene. The look that if its shot at me now is met with defensive confrontation usually followed by the word off.   I didn’t realise at this point how situations like this hurt Reilly. Too many children, eating with others, noise, etc all magnified to where it’s just too much.  I decided after 3 sessions I wouldn’t be back.

I told the nursery teachers at the visit that I wasn’t sure that mainstream nursery was right for Reilly he was still very young and couldn’t talk but they hadn’t met him and assumed he’d be fine.

I was right he wasn’t fine. Reilly was never going to sit on the carpet for stories and drink his milk, he didn’t understand the rule of 3 in an area at a time, he was still in nappies and he couldn’t bear to be away from me. Between myself, the teachers and Reillys speech and language therapist we decided he couldn’t remain there and I was advised to try a sure start nursery a couple of miles up the road.

I would get the bus with Reilly to the nursery in Wideopen, this in itself was a task and a half. Some times he refused to walk the ten minutes to the bus stop, choosing instead to lie down and scream because someone had passed on a bike or a dog had barked. If the wrong bus came first and he couldn’t get on it there would be another meltdown which would result in him trying to run off onto the main road, he has no fear or traffic sense whatsoever. We’d arrive stressed then I’d sit in the office while they tried to settle him in, it was hard work and took a few weeks but through the staffs hard work and perseverance I actually took him in one day and he pushed me out the door and shut it behind me. I cried all the way back to the bus stop. A mixture of happiness and relief that he had shown a little bit of independence, I could see progression instead of regression. I would sit in a cafe round the corner just in case they needed me instead of going home.
Months past and it became the norm for Reilly he loved it and he loved the staff. Transport was still an issue but we did it. Every time we left nursery we would go into the co-op go to the same aisles, put the same things in the basket and sit on the wall and wait for our bus. God forbid they didn’t have what he was looking for (6 muller corners, a kinder egg and a flake ice cream every single time).  I was benefitting from the few hours a week free time I had, I was worrying less about him in nursery and other than the constant assessments and then his diagnosis we were OK. We knew he needed a special needs school but as per usual there were no spaces, full up with a waiting list.

Then we got the letter, the letter to advise us his nursery would be closing due to a shakeup within North Tyneside Council. We had it planned we would withhold Reilly from starting reception for one year with him being a summer baby and let him do another year at nursery, give him a chance to socialise more maybe even gain some speech. No that wasn’t going to happen. Upsetting an autistic child’s routine is devastating for them and this was about as bad as it could get.
Meetings were quickly called for all of the professionals dealing with Reilly, everyone agreed a special needs school was needed but he must be put to a panel to decide, this panel was months away.

Where the hell was Reilly going to school in September? No one knew.

We eventually received the news after numerous irate emails and phone calls that Reilly had been to panel that his statement of needs was with a special needs school but unfortunately they were all full. Tears, anger, frustration you name it we felt it. The only option was to keep Reilly at home or send him back to our mainstream local school, the one that wasn’t right for him before. If we kept him at home he would not be the councils main concern, if we sent him and it was a problem then he would be dealt with quicker.  A ridiculous waste of time and energy that is extremely stressful for the child and the parents but that’s how it works. He was given a 1-2-1 assistant who was brilliant with him but by god he had her life! I actually felt sorry for her but she saw him as a challenge and got stuck in regardless. The school handled it brilliantly and were really helpful in getting Reilly moved on to which I will always be grateful.

To cut a really long story short Reilly started Beacon Hill School in October last year, we were very vocal constantly on the phone for updates and it worked. Small classes, sensory rooms, skilled special needs teachers; communication systems and most importantly other autistic children. I won’t lie when myself and Shane went to look around all I thought was Reilly doesn’t need to be here this is a REALLY special school for complex kids but the truth is that is exactly where he needs to be. He is transported there and back everyday by taxi and an escort, some days he likes this others not so much!  The first week I cried the second I did a little jig back up the hallway to make a cup of tea. This school is bringing him on leaps and bounds, teachers are amazing and so are the kids.

My child is entitled to education just like any other. I did not expect to have to fight to get him there through a system that is slow and flawed. He is different not less and he won’t be failed.  

Published by

Christine Stephenson

Really busy mam who runs her own charity, has 3 sons and learning about autism every day. Contact me at alphaautistic@gmail.com

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