One in four autistic children waiting over three years for support, research finds

The National Autistic Society says a quarter of parents waited over three years to receive support for their child, while a similar number said they are satisfied with the special educational needs support their child is receiving.

11/11/21

One in four autistic children waiting over three years for support, research finds

The School Report for the National Autistic Society (NAS) has found that parents are facing exhausting and sometimes years-long battles to get support for their autistic children in school.

Based on surveys of over 4,000 parents, carers, autistic children and young people asked for their experiences this Summer, a quarter (26%) of parents said they waited over three years to receive support for their child.

Parents of autistic children responding to the survey also highlighted issues with being refused an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan, with nearly a third of parents being refused the first time they asked.

The process from making a request for an EHC assessment to receiving a completed plan should take no longer than 20 weeks. Councils must decide whether or not to proceed with an EHC needs assessment and inform the child’s parents or the young person within a maximum of six weeks of receiving the request. If the local authority decides not to issue a plan, it should let them know within 16 weeks.

However, Caroline Stevens, Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, said these deadlines are not being met.

“Families told us they had to spend months, even years, without the right support, often because there’s no school to meet their needs. And two in five of those who were refused an assessment of their child's needs said they took legal action. I know from my experience with my own autistic son how gruelling this can be, especially on top of the often-unbearable pressures families already face.”

As a result of the delays, NAS says families are being driven to expensive and stressful legal action to get support. Government figures show that 47% of appeals to the SEND tribunal were for an autistic child. Of SEN appeals being heard by a tribunal, 95% were resolved in favour of the parents. Of those parents responding to the survey, two in five who were refused an Education Health and Care assessment said they had appealed to the SEND Tribunal, with the local authority conceding before the hearing in most cases.

The research found that the long waits have led to parents feeling “helpless and disenfranchised”, as well as increasing distrust in the council and professionals. It also found that the system was difficult to navigate, particularly for those who have English as a second language or are autistic themselves.

The report said councils, schools and health services currently lack the staff and funding to meet demand, and have called on the Government to use the upcoming SEND Review, due in Spring 2022, to ‘get to grips’ with the EHC plan delays and make sure every part of the system has the investment it needs.

“We won’t accept a world where so many autistic children are falling behind and so many families are being left exhausted and on the edge of crisis. The Government’s upcoming SEND review is an opportunity to change things, to live up to the promise of the 2014 reforms which were never implemented properly. The system is broken, the Government must act.”

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