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"Without the help we received..."
"Without the help we received, our son, in our opinion, would have had no real future.
Our son is 11 and has high-functioning autism. Because of the help we received, he now has a future, which, as any parent is concerned, particularly a parent of a child with SEN, is everything.
Our son sped through all his milestones, often ahead of his peers and was extremely happy and easy. By the age of 19 months our son could sing ‘Moon River’ (pitch perfect) and count to 25. We thought he was gifted. Gradually however, at around two and a half to three, we started to compile a growing list of things that were at odds with his peers and pressed to have him assessed. The diagnosis came on July 6th 2000. He was assessed by the LA child developmental team as having high-functioning autism. We don’t suppose we shall ever forget that date. The shock, distress and grief of this revelation was unequalled and complete. In our minds he was going to grow up to be one sort of person. Then it changed. He isn’t that person – he’s a different person, but no less wonderful. But the pain about that will never quite go away because the loss of a dream is a very big loss indeed.
We quickly found a place for our son at a local mainstream state school with a high proportion of statemented children. The first hurdle was that despite the diagnosis and all the evidence, Southwark deemed it unnecessary to assess our son for a Statement of special educational needs. The only deduction to be made, for this conclusion, was because he was bright, happy, verbal and didn’t have any behavioural issues. The fact that he couldn’t access the vast majority of the curriculum didn’t seem to be important!
We immediately challenged this unrealistic decision and fought for him to be assessed by asking all the professionals involved to re-state their evidence. We won. It was also our introduction to the fact that the LA will first refuse help and that we would only get the help that our son needed if we were prepared to put in the considerable time and energy into fighting our corner.
We wasted so much time waiting and hoping for something to improve. It didn’t and we ended up funding our own SaLT, our son having by then lost out on a couple of years worth of vital therapy. Over the years the hours on his statement were increased to 20. By the beginning of Year 4 we started to see the gap widening considerably between our son and his peers. We also started to wonder if it was good for his self esteem to be in an environment where he would always be trying to ‘be like everyone else’ and no doubt, all but ‘hanging on’. Our utmost desire for our son at school was that he should be in an environment where he’d feel happy and feel like he ‘belonged’, where the lessons would be directed at his level, not at the rest of the class, with him always having to have his work differentiated.
Throughout Year 4 and 5 we looked at mainstream, state and independent schools, autism units attached to schools, LA specialist and independent specialist schools. We knew we would need to find a solicitor as we were in no doubt that we weren’t in for an easy ride with the LA. The deadline for the LA to send out the final Statement with their choice of school placement was 15th February. There is nothing you can do in terms of an appeal until you have the final Statement. They waited until the very last day possible to send it out, although, they undoubtedly had already made their decision of where our son should go back in October!
On receiving it on February 14th, we then went ahead and made an appointment with Douglas Silas. Thankfully, by whatever means, we came to the right person!
That first meeting was at their office where we talked in great detail about our son. We took along copies of all of our son’s paperwork including his statement. It was an extremely relaxed occasion (made so by them), considering we were waiting to hear whether or not they thought we might have a good case. Neither of us had ever really had any dealings with a solicitor, but we both felt that it was nothing like what we were expecting. In short, warm, welcoming, relaxing, clear, empathetic and ethical.
Douglas Silas felt, having read through our son’s reports and spoken with us that there was a good case to be made to the SENDIST for our son to go to our preferred school and not the school named by our LA. We felt very confident that they would not take up our case and proceed with it, if they didn’t truly believe in it.
They explained that we needed to provide expert assessment reports and very carefully put us in contact with the educational psychologist, speech and language therapist and occupational therapist whose knowledge and expertise they felt best matched our son. Douglas Silas has a wide experience of working with many professionals in the field. They were also very clear and realistic about the costs involved.
The weeks ahead were quite frenetic with activity. Douglas Silas kept us totally informed at every step and asked for our input where needed.
We were represented by Douglas, the educational psychologist and the lead speech and language therapist from the school we were aiming for. Southwark Local Authority were represented by their solicitor and the headteacher of their named school (neither of whom had ever met our son). The panel was made up of 3 members. It was a highly charged and emotional day. We arrived at 9am and left at 3.30 (with a break for lunch). We felt that it had gone quite well, (given that our LA had not assessed our son and had provided no new evidence), but were well aware that it is impossible to tell and in any case were terrified of feeling too positive.
The two week wait for the outcome seemed like the longest time in the world. Just as soon as he’d received notification of the result, Douglas called us. ”You’ve won!!”, were the glorious words. I think, only then did we realise what a strain we’d been under.
We were advised at the start of this process by our local Parent Partnership organisation that ‘the SENDIST don’t like it if you take along your own solicitor’. This statement keeps ringing in my ears as quite the most terrible piece of advice.
There is no way at all that we could have won this case without Douglas Silas representing us. As I said, without Douglas Silas’ help, we feel that our son wouldn’t be in the position he is now, which is somewhere where we feel that he has a very real and promising future. He has now been at the school for one term and is positively flourishing.
Douglas Silas is someone who we would unreservedly recommend to anyone needing legal help with a child with special needs."
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