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Autism: ‘Free Nursery Care Not Available To My Son’

December 9, 2021

A woman whose son has autism has said children with additional needs are being discriminated against as they cannot all access free nursery care.

Rebecca put three-year-old Jack in a private creche as mainstream nurseries could not cater to his needs.

Bridgend council offered her 12.5 hours of funded private childcare, but she has to top up more than £200 a month.

It said full-time education or special packages were offered for children with extra needs in mainstream schools.

Rebecca said she waited 15 months for Jack’s diagnosis after noticing something was different.

He struggles with loud noises, can be triggered by flashing lights and has “meltdowns” which sometimes have no trigger, said Rebecca.

In Bridgend, children are eligible for free nursery education from the age of three.

If working parents wish to put them in private nurseries, they can apply for the Welsh government’s Childcare Offer, which provides 30 hours of free early education and childcare a week.

Rebecca, who is currently training as a teacher, does not qualify for the full amount and said the current system was unfair on families with children with additional needs as public-run nurseries cannot cater for all disabilities.

‘Disability discrimination’

Rebecca said it “doesn’t seem fair” that Jack will not be entitled to full childcare support in a creche that meets his needs just because the free nurseries available to him cannot support him.

She said: “If he wasn’t autistic and didn’t have the needs that he has then he would have a full-time place in the school and we wouldn’t have to pay any additional fees to top up, but Jack needs to go there to progress.

“It feels like disability discrimination as it’s not Jack’s fault.”

Rebecca added that was part of a wider problem with education and support around autism.

“Jack is such a happy boy and his differences make him such an interesting character so I’m excited for his future, but I am worried more about society and what society needs to learn to make life better for Jack too,” she said.

“It can be extremely challenging when Jack has a meltdown and it limits what we can do as a family and the places we can go because a lot of places aren’t equipped for children with autism.

“It has left us feeling frustrated and still lost.”

‘Fighting for support’

Rebecca said they had longed for a diagnosis to finally have something to help get the support Jack needs.

But she added the most frustrating part was that even with the diagnosis, they were still no further forward in getting the help they were “desperate for”.

She said while she has been offered online support, it was “extremely difficult” for Jack.

“It is very hard to get him to engage as he needs to be in a room with someone, so although he has had some support it hasn’t made an ounce of difference,” she said, adding that she is “fighting for face to face support”.

Rebecca said she and her husband had been forced to do their own research and reach out to other families to make sure Jack gets the support he needs as early as possible.

“It makes you feel less alone but I have learnt more from them than I have [from] the professionals because you just don’t get that from them,” she said.

‘Even harder during pandemic’

Chris Haines from the National Autistic Society said: “Unfortunately, stories like Rebecca and Jack’s remain all too common in Wales.

“Parents across the country often tell us they have struggled for many years to get the right support in place to meet their child’s needs.

“This has become even harder during the pandemic which has had a disproportionate impact on autistic people and left many families feeling completely stranded.

“It is vital that autistic children receive timely early-years support, so councils must ensure their needs are prioritised and properly addressed in recovery plans.”

A Bridgend County Borough Council spokesman said: “The local authority offers full-time education for some nursery pupils with additional learning needs in mainstream classes or in specialist provisions attached to mainstream schools.

“However, full-time nursery education is not suitable for all nursery pupils with complex, additional learning needs and therefore, specialist packages, tailored to meet individual needs are offered.

“All specialist packages are monitored on a regular basis to ensure they meet each child’s needs.”

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “In addition to the Childcare Offer, funding of around £1.5m is made available to local authorities each year through the Childcare Offer for Wales Additional Support Grant to help fund additional childcare costs and ensure eligible children with additional needs are able to access the childcare element in the same way as other eligible children.”

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