UK & World News
Autism: Four In 10 Children 'Illegally Excluded'
Thousands of children with autism are being illegally excluded from school, a new report claims.
Research by Ambitious About Autism, which campaigns on behalf of autistic children and young people, found that four in 10 autistic children have been subject to informal - and therefore illegal - exclusions.
This ranges from parents being repeatedly asked to collect their children early, to being asked not to bring their children into school at all.
Youngsters have also been asked to stay at home, miss school trips and even attend lessons part-time.
The report said that as around 70,785 children have the condition, this could mean as many as 28,000 illegal exclusions.
"Ultimately what we are saying is a very large population of children being left out and left behind," said Jolanta Lasota, chief executive of the charity.
With one in 100 children in the UK affected by autism, the charity said the implications of its findings - based on a sample study of 500 families, 1,000 school staff and 92 local authorities - were far-reaching.
"[These exclusions] cost children's families because their families need to stay at home to support them," Ms Lasota said.
"And it costs society - we know that autism costs £27bn to society, and that's due to wasted opportunities in education and support to young people with autism."
Ravi, aged seven, loves reading, writing, numbers, puzzles and shapes.
His mother Kasthuri, a software engineer, has high hopes for his future, and is confident that he can do well academically and go onto do a job that he enjoys when he is older.
However, Ravi, who is autistic, is currently in a school for severely disabled children.
Many of his classmates are non-verbal, and have such serious learning disabilities that their learning is focused on play and sensory stimulation.
"My son's strengths are in academics," said Kashturi. "The moment [he] goes to a special needs learning disabled school, yes there is a curriculum for him, but the focus is not completely academics, its more independence and life skills."
Ravi is one of thousands of children which the charity believes are being illegally excluded from schools which are unable to adequately support their special needs.
The government says that it has committed to improving resources for autistic children, and that schools are not allowed to use informal exclusions as a means to avoiding providing them with the support they need.
"We are spending over £3.5 million on Special Educational Needs (SEN) Co-ordinators in schools to provide targeted support to children with SEN, and have given the National Autistic Society £440,000 to provide advice to parents and teachers about how to support autistic children at school," said the Department for Education (DfE).
"We are also tackling the causes of exclusion by improving the quality of teaching, overhauling the SEN system, raising standards in literacy and numeracy, tackling disadvantage through the Pupil Premium, and significantly reforming alternative provision."
The DfE also said that according to its figures, only 68 pupils with autistic spectrum disorder were permanently excluded from school, or 0.1%.
But parents and autism campaigners say that by informally excluding children, schools are using more subtle means to keep autistic children at home, to devastating effect on the children and their families.
"When the right support for Ravi is not there, I can't even think of work," said Kasthuri. "He is supposed to be at school full-time but I can be called at any time to pick him up."
"Because [Ravi's mainstream school] did not have the right support, he has been pushed to an environment that is not right for him.
"The blame is on the child, that the child is not coping, which is not right. With the right support, he is able to cope."
The report was published as part of Ambitious about Autism's Ruled Out campaign, which is calling for every school to have access to a specialist autism teacher and to ensure that families with children that have the condition know their rights.
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