Bid for new school for autistic children

TWO WORTHING mothers are campaigning for a new school for autistic children in West Sussex.

Sophie Spearman and Clare Greaves say they do not want other parents to go through the struggles that they have while trying to arrange secondary education for their sons Ethan and Joseph who are both severely autistic.

The free school, which will be run by the Academies Trust of the National Autistic Society, will be a day school for 70 pupils and will cater for four to 19 year-olds.

Mrs Spearman said: “There were four areas that have asked for a free school and we found out about a fortnight ago that we had won the bid for having the support of the society for going forward with the application.

“West Sussex County Council will have to come up with some suitable sites then shortlist them to three between now and January.”

It is hoped that the school would be completed by 2015.

Mrs Spearman, of Cranworth Road, got involved with the bid for a new school when her 11-year-old son was coming to the end of his time at Palatine Primary School in Goring.

The mother-of-two said: “Ethan is non-verbal and still wears nappies so the way to describe it is like having a baby in terms of his understanding of language and the world around him which is akin to a six to 12 month old child.

“There is always development and learning but it comes in tiny little bits and it is very hard to understand until you have been through it.

“We very much like to look at the positives but it does have its challenges and it would be much easier if we did have support available through a local school.

“Our sons needs an autism specific education but there was nothing local that could provide for his needs so we have actually got a place at a residential school in Dorset where he will be from Monday to Friday.

“It is autism specific which is of the utmost importance in our minds. We want appropriate education and we are very passionate about that.

“The whole thing has made me realise that even though a free school would not necessarily meet Ethan’s needs because he needs an aspect of residential care, for other families it would be perfect.

“I do not want them to go through what we have gone through.

“The two primary schools here do their best but they are generic provisions for children with special needs therefore naturally there is not going to be the expertise available.

“I feel that if there had been an opportunity for Ethan to have specific provision from reception age and through his primary years then it may well have made a difference.

“We may not have even got to the stage where he needs to be in residential provision.

“Early intervention is vital so the idea of having a local primary school that goes through to secondary level I think is really important because so many families have to fight to get school places and it is really difficult.”

Mrs Greaves runs the Worthing branch of the National Autistic Society.

She said: “I think other parents would really benefit from this. A new free school in West Sussex would have a huge impact on local families as well as creating community awareness of autism.

“It would also be beneficial to have a school that goes right through to 19. Transitions are a big problem for autistic children, it is not liking the change of new people, it is all about continuity and constancy.

“Joseph is severely autistic although he does have some speech.

“He is very regimented and we cannot just say let’s pop to the shops. He has also got a lot of medical conditions 
to do with food and the bowels.

“He has special interests which are a really big part of his life. For example he loves Formula One.

“Ethan was diagnosed shortly before Joseph and I was put in touch with Sophie through the specialist.

“Then the boys were in the same class at Camelia Botnar. You find that the friends you had before have just fallen away as it is very difficult for people to understand the challenges of the smaller things that you take for granted.”

An open day will be held at Worthing Leisure Centre on October 15 from 10am to 2pm. Interested parties are invited to come and listen to the plans for the new school and ask questions about how it will work.