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Mum of excluded Asperger's sufferer says school is failing her

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: January 21, 2013

By Piers Meyler

struggled:  Sarah Alexander is asking  for Paris to be allowed back to school with the specialist support she had last year

struggled: Sarah Alexander is asking for Paris to be allowed back to school with the specialist support she had last year

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A YOUNG Asperger's sufferer who has been excluded from her classes at St Martin's School in Hutton is being failed by the education system, her mother claims.

Paris Alexander, a Year 8 pupil, has frequently been in trouble at the Hanging Hill Lane school since the specialist support she received was not continued in September.

The 13-year-old, who has been given a level 4 statement of special needs, is on a reduced timetable of two lessons a day until her behaviour improves.

Her most recent run-in with the school occurred on December 18, when she was excluded for three days for rudeness to teachers.

Her mother Sarah, of Hutton, has now decided to keep her daughter from school until she is convinced Paris will not find herself in trouble again.

She is, however, adamant that this will be not happen if the specialist support is reinstated.

This academic year, since September, Paris has been excluded five times and now faces the threat of being permanently removed from the school.

Ms Alexander, who has another daughter in the sixth form at St Martin's, said: "Paris was given a specialist teacher last year to support her way through lessons. She was doing fine when she had that support. However, that support was withdrawn and Paris has really struggled since."

The latest episode occurred when Paris returned to school, but could not rejoin mainstream classes until staff had a meeting with her mother.

Paris was told she had to work in the specialist educational needs (SEN) classroom, which led to an argument with staff.

Ms Alexander said: "St Martin's is too much about A* students. If you are a good student then students can excel. My other daughter is in the sixth form and she is doing fine. But star students don't make a school by themselves."

She added: "Treating Paris like this is not going to help her. She cannot cope with change."

In a letter to chairman of governors Chris Plume, she wrote: "Although you have urged me to send Paris back to St Martin's, I would like to stress the responsibilities as a parent and guardian of her safeguarding and well being.

"St Martin's I feel is inadequate in this area.

"If I were to send Paris back, what guarantees could you give me that Paris would be given adequate support and that she would not be excluded again for her disability?"

In response, Mr Plume wrote: "I strongly disagree that there are deficiencies with regard to your daughter's safeguarding or wellbeing.

"The discussions around Paris' exclusion are centred around her behaviour and not any disability, although I believe that full account has been taken of her condition. I would again urge you to consider enabling Paris to resume her education."

Figures from February 2012 show that 76 per cent of pupils at St Martin's School gained five or more GCSEs at A* to C, including English and maths.

However, none of those starting "behind for their age" achieved five good GCSEs in Year 11.

Head teacher Mike O'Sullivan said: "St Martin's is a very inclusive school that has an excellent SEN department. It would be inappropriate to comment on individual cases but occasionally the school's best for those with complex needs is not as good as specialist schools.

"Therefore when places become available in these schools it is sometimes better to transfer to receive the provision appropriate for their needs."

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  • Cobo201  |  January 21 2013, 10:22AM

    The comments by the chair of governers suggesting that Paris' exclusion has nothing to do with her disability is actually yet another example of the general ignorance in schools of the nature of Aspergers. It is glaringly obvious that Paris' behaviour is directly a result of her condition and disability. People with Asperger's exhibit "social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior." Rudeness and blunt speaking can be a feature of AS. When the child with AS is facing a transitional change of activity, or cannot understand an instruction of what is required of them, they can quickly go into a state of high emotional arousal which can provoke a strong verbal response. Before this, the AS child can enter a "rumbling stage" and a skilled adult can recognise this stage and calm the child and avoid an emotional overload. Schools which specialise in AS children have a common approach if a child has a meltdown. The first question they ask is: "Was there anything we could have done to prevent this?" The mother is right to keep her child away from the school until proper support is in place. Reading between the lines, I would not be surprised if this child was being punished because of the nature of her condition and behaviours and responses over which she has no control. This is a form of emotional abuse. Not all AS children are the same. Some are compliant and withdrawn and avoid all social interaction. Others display high emotional responses in certain situations. Teaching an AS child can be very difficult and challenging, but the law says that schools have to accommodate their needs. Schools are quick to make self-congratulatory statements about their "inclusive" approach, but at the same time are failing children with autism. Part of the problem is that children with AS are often bright and articulate. WHen the child fails to follow an instruction (a common trait) the teacher then concludes that the child is being naughty or devious which frequently results in the child being punished purely as a result of their disability. Would a school exclude a child in a wheelchair for not taking part in sports day? Of course not. Because the child in the wheelchair has an obvious disability. Aspergers is often referred to as the "hidden disability." No doubt this school will continue to exist in a state of denial about Paris' condition and justify their stance of blaming the child and punishing rather than accepting or understanding the true nature of the disability and putting into place the right training, understanding and strategies to assist Paris in enjoying her right to an education.

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