School battle over autistic boy

By Robyn Rosen, February 17, 2011
Claudia, Daniel and Chase Lindsay: £30,000 in fees to fight for school

Claudia, Daniel and Chase Lindsay: £30,000 in fees to fight for school

A mother of a severely autistic boy has said she feels she has failed him after losing a battle with a council to send him to a top autism school.

Chase Lindsay is the surviving twin of a 23-week premature birth. He weighed just one pound at birth.

He remained on a life support machine for seven months, flat-lined twice and his parents were told he had a one per cent chance of survival.

Now, aged five, he is physically able, but does not speak.

His parents, Claudia and Daniel of Mill Hill, began looking into extra therapies when he was a toddler. When he was two, he started two intensive private therapy sessions a week at the Norwood Hope centre, which cost £65 each.

Seeing the progress he was making with the help of picture exchange communication System (PECS), which gave him a voice, the Lindsays called on friends and family to help increase his sessions to three a week.

"I knew there was no input from the local authority, so I had to start private sessions," said Mrs Lindsay, 38. "His nursery was a glorified playgroup where he was given 20 minutes of speech and language a week.

"We were told that if he wasn't talking by four, he never would. But it is proven that if children have intervention at a young age, it makes a huge difference."

The couple felt that Treehouse, a school for autistic children in Haringey, was the only place that would continue the intensive work, and 18 months ago, they were offered a place at the £70,000-a-year school, subject to council funding.

But Barnet Council said Chase should go to Oakleigh School for children with severe learning difficulties, in Whetstone. Mrs Lindsay said: "The speech and language therapist at Oakleigh is not qualified in PECs. There is no focus on self-help skills. None of the children is verbal and I believe to learn a language, you have to be surrounded by it."

But after spending £30,000 in legal fees appealing the decision, the family lost in December and now Chase is due to start at Oakleigh later this month. "I feel really scared," Mrs Lindsay said. "What was the point of spending thousands on him in intensive care when the provision is not met when they leave hospital?

"It is a constant struggle. There is no provision for my son to have the intensive therapies he needs to have a chance of an independent future.

"The local authority says its priorities are the needs of the child, but that is not the case. It's based on funds available, and with all the cuts in Barnet's budget, what chance have I got? I look at him every day and think I have failed him."

A Barnet Council spokeswoman said that Oakleigh School's speech and language therapists would be formally trained in PECS by April.

She added: "Oakleigh School, along with all of Barnet's special schools, was recently judged by Ofsted as outstanding. The final decision of any case which goes to an independent tribunal is binding. We have a statutory responsibility to follow the rulings of the tribunal."

Last updated: 1:50pm, February 17 2011