West Garioch SNP councillor Alison Grant is writing to the Education Minister, after visiting a Kemnay Autism Cafe, to find out what is available in terms of education surrounding special needs.
She said: “It would help us to understand what is happening in education, and what training is offered in schools.”
Alison said she was “really glad” to hear about the group, but “very concerned” to hear from parents how support needs were not being met in some areas.
The apparent lack of special needs training in the teacher training curriculum was discussed and suggestions were made about sharing knowledge, inlcuding giving presentations to schools on in-service days.
Discussing the issues with Karen Brown and Jacqui Sim who both have children on the autism spectrum as well as being Autism Advisers at the café, it became clear that the main issues were identification of need, lack of coordination between health and education and a lack of communication between the parties concerned.
Karen outlined the difficulties she had faced in getting the help her son badly needed.
She said: “I struggled for ten years with my 15-year-old son. There is not a lot of support for parents, or their children. I was put through a horrible time and my son was treated really badly. Nobody listens to you - my son was labelled a bad child and I was treated as a ‘bad’ parent.
“Eventually I forced them to assess my son at the children’s hospital, and if his problems had been detected earlier, he would have had the right medication and the support he needed. He would also have benefited from his education.”
Mother of two children on the spectrum, Jaqcui Sim added: “Once the children are diagnosed, it’s getting them and their parents the right help. Eventually there is the help and support but you have to fight to get it.”
Karen and Jacqui reported marked improvements once their children attended the Academy where they said “excellent”, specialist support is available. Karen’s 15-year-old, who has a mental age of six and needs help with motor skills, now receives consistent, specialised help. Karen said: “He is benefiting from his education but he is still so far behind because he didn’t have the appropriate education at primary level to prepare him for the academy.”
Jaqcui had nothing but praise and said: “At Kemnay Academy, the door is always open for you to speak to someone, whether it’s the guidance teacher, the Deputy Head or support staff - they always have time for you.”
While Kemnay and Meldrum Academies were flagged up as “excellent” in their support for special needs, the lack of consistency among schools was also a problem. With cuts being made throughout the local authorities, Ms Grant said: “I’m really concerned as cuts progress. The council has an obligation to meet the needs of children that have special needs, but with cuts being made, there is a danger that the expertise we have in this area will be lost in the community.”
The purpose of the café is to help parents and children of any age, but Karen said it was important to push for help as early as possible. She said: “It is so easy for the first step to be made and parents that experience similar issues at school and at home should ask for a Conners Report. If children are pre-school, go to your health visitor or GP, or failing that, come to the coffee shop.”
As she left, Councillor Grant said: “I’m so happy to hear that secondary education in Kemnay is working well.”
Autism is a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people.
While all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition affects them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support.