YOUNG people with autism are being failed by schools across Scotland because they are not putting in place the support to help pupils with additional needs meet their academic potential, it has been claimed.

Charities and legal experts said “urgent changes” were needed to give children with autism and other learning disabilities adequate support at school.

Meanwhile, parents and young people from volunteer-run charity Differabled said they felt “mentally broken” by an education system which put barriers in place for those with additional support needs (ASN) and disabilities, particularly older children aiming to get qualifications needed for higher education.

In Scotland there is a “presumption” that all children will go to mainstream schools. However, under the 2010 Equality Act all local authorities have a duty to put in place “reasonable adjustments” for ASN pupils.

Parents from Differabled said they’d had to fight for support their children were legally entitled to – such as support plans, additional time in exams and equal access to work experience.

Though many commended supportive teachers they claimed there was a systemic attitude that university would be out of the reach of those with additional needs, meaning schools discouraged applications and did not adequately support those aiming for the grades required.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition said there had been continued cuts to ASN teachers in recent years, despite a 55% increase in the number of Scottish children identified with ASN since 2012. Only 1.2% have a co-ordinated support plan in place.

“If we are to close the attainment gap for children in Scotland, that means addressing the needs of those with additional support needs, including autism,” she added.

“Urgent changes need to be made on all fronts to give these children the care and support they are entitled to.”

Lynn Welsh, the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s head of legal in Scotland, said she was concerned by the testimony of Sunday National interviewees, and suggested that their stories were “the tip of the iceberg”.

“We know that disabled pupils are less likely to leave school with qualifications than their non-disabled peers,” she added.

“We are concerned that one of the reasons why this is happening is to do with the lack of support for their learning.”

Education lawyer Iain Nisbet, of Cairn Legal is aware of similar cases across Scotland. He said: “I think it’s an over simplification to say it is just resources. There is also work to be done in terms of attitude, which the best of schools get right. Unfortunately some see the disability before seeing the potential.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We want all children and young people to get the support that they need to reach their full learning potential.

“The law is clear that education authorities have a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments as well as identifying, providing and reviewing the additional support needs of their pupils, including those with disabilities and autism.”

When getting support is a fight

‘He didn’t want to be treated differently... it impacted him’

DEBBIE Best’s 18-year-old son Robbie, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), started studying history and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, this week. But he claims that he is “mentally broken” by a school system that forced his family had to fight for support.

Best lists off a catalogue of failures – at the age of six his parents had to take legal action to reinstate him into mainstream school and he was regularly excluded from both school and from trips.

When he moved to secondary he wanted to remain in mainstream classes but staff advised he wouldn’t cope and he was placed in a Learning and Communication Room (LCR) at Bishopbriggs Academy, rated as one of Scotland’s best schools. “We trusted their judgement but it was actually the worst thing for our son,” says Best. “He didn’t want to be treated differently. It really impacted on him mentally.”

One day his mother received a call to say Robbie was feeling suicidal.

When he returned to school, she claims management didn’t follow up to see what special measures were needed.

The family took their case to tribunal and gradually Robbie joined the mainstream classes with the support of the school’s deputy headteachers and a trusted guidance teacher. There were still challenges Unable to take end of year tests in maths and English due to stress, Robbie was moved down to lower sets than his ability and struggled to cope. Best fought for one-to-one support and he started to make significant progress.

Yet she claims adjustments that should have been made were not.

“He had to run out of time in all of his prelims so we could evidence the need for extra time for the SQA,” she explains. He was awarded extra time but the scribe couldn’t type, which would have allowed him to read on screen. Throughout the process the severe anxiety made him ill.

On Robbie’s UCAS statement , he wrote he was “forced into special education at several points against his will”. His mother says: “That’s how he sees his journey.”

When support is given

Made to feel providing a scribe ‘was a favour’ by tutors

MARY-JANE McNally, now 18, was first diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was 12.

She went to Lourdes Secondary for one year, where her mother says she got no support and “just wandered the corridors” before moving to Notre Dame High school – Glasgow’s only state-run all-girls school – where things were better, but far from perfect.

Despite sensory issues she wasn’t allowed to wear trousers until her last term at school following a complaint to Glasgow’s head of education. And when it came to exams all girls with additional needs were put in the National 3 English class.

McNally was only moved up to National 5 – appropriate to her abilities – when her mother complained.

In exams she got extra time, a reader and a scribe. “But in my maths Higher they kept switching the invigilators,” she says. “It really distracted me.”

She later failed the exam, though she got an A in computer studies, and Cs in English and Human Biology and went to a Glasgow college with the intention of doing an HND in software development.

Here she claims support for students with additional needs was almost non-existent.

Tutors made her feel providing a scribe was a favour, and she was told off for taking photos of the notes on the board – she struggles with handwriting and listening while taking notes.

“The college kept putting up hurdles,” she says. “It was like they wanted me to fail.”

She withdrew after the HNC and got a place on a software development degree course at Caledonian University through clearing. So far it’s been night and day.

There was a transition programme over the holidays, “in recognition of the additional anxieties and worries of autistic students”, a mentoring programme, and staff have autism training. “I have definitely felt really supported,” says McNally.

When things go wrong

‘My son was bullied and had no support’

RONAN, now 20, was just five when his need for support was recognised. At primary school, that support was largely there and by the time he was 10 he had a diagnosis of autism, and later of dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

Then came secondary. He went to Boclair Academy in Bearden, East Dunbartonshire, where his mother Dania Cacace says he was bullied every day and classroom support was not put in place.

Notes and recommendations from his previous assessment didn’t seem to be passed on. Even when a special needs teacher visited again in third year – recommending urgently that he get typed, broken down instructions to help him retain information – little changed.

There was no classroom support assistant, no scribe and no laptop.

“My son’s handwriting is illegible,” Cacace says. “He would take crumbled bits of paper out of his school bag and he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing.”

In school he sat quietly and bit his nails until he bled. Back home he dealt with frustration by lashing out and having meltdowns. “I tried to keep it all bottled up at school,” Ronan says.

His mum added: “At night he couldn’t sleep because he was so nervous about school the next day. Looking back it was quite scary.”

Yet he wanted to succeed. His mother pushed for him to be allowed to sit Nat 5s in history, English and PE and hired a tutor – at great personal expense – to get him through.

He was allowed extra time in exams but his sensory processing disorder – making lights, noises and smells overwhelming – made sitting exams extremely stressful.

Despite passing both English and History he was told he could only do his PE Higher.

She feels teachers did not support her son to meet his potential. “It’s horrific for him,” she says. “Now he’s just sitting in the house. It’s had a long lasting impact on both of us.”

Right to replies

‘We invest in first-class services’

ANN Davie, of East Dunbartonshire Council, said: “We are committed to helping all our young people realise their full potential – providing appropriate support at all stages of their educational journey.

“Supporting children with additional support needs is a priority and we work closely with parents, teachers and specialist colleagues to plan and evaluate support on an individual and collective basis – using a multiagency approach.

“Our recent strategic review committed our continued investment in providing first-class educational services and facilities for children and young people who have additional support needs.”

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “Glasgow has for many years committed a large number of resources to our widening access agenda helping to encourage our young people – regardless of their circumstances or additional support needs – to raise destinations to further and higher education when they leave school.”