Help for children with autism

Help for children with autism

SPECIAL education centres for children with autism and Asperger syndrome could be set up across North Somerset so youngsters no longer have to travel outside of the district.

Between 160 and 299 children aged three-19 are thought to suffer from an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in North Somerset, with higher numbers in Nailsea, Backwell and Churchill compared to the rest of the district.

ASDs are a group of lifelong conditions, including autism and Asperger syndrome, that affect communication and social skills and often result in learning difficulties and unusual behaviours.

Eleven children from North Somerset currently have to attend schools outside of the district to access the educational assistance they need - six of these placements are residential.

Placements at these independent special schools cost the council �100,000 per pupil each year and the authority is now looking to set up a number of centres across North Somerset to enable children to access the help they need within the district.

Jeremy Blatchford, North Somerset Council’s executive member for children and young people’s services, said: “We don’t want North Somerset children travelling outside the area. It’s greatly unfair on them and totally disruptive to families.

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“We are trying to make sure our children don’t have to go too far away from home unless there’s a very good reason.”

A pilot scheme has already been set up at Nailsea School for secondary school pupils and the authority is looking for a site for primary school pupils.

Jane Routledge, head of complex additional needs service at North Somerset, said: “Pupils would continue to attend their usual schools but access the enhanced provision for some activities.

“This means that there would not be a fixed number of pupils at the site, but opportunities for a range of ASD pupils to benefit from targeted support.”

At present the provision is only open to North Somerset children but in the longer term the authority will be looking at cooperating with neighbouring councils to enhance the provision on offer.

The specialist centres will be able to cater for eight pupils at one time and will be staffed by a teacher/manager and a higher level teaching assistant.

North Somerset Council is hoping to set up a centre for primary school children by September, but until then a specialist teacher has been working with a small group of pupils in their own schools.