April 17, 2015


Tadworth, Surrey, UK – Deborah Smith is mother to Tom, a nineteen-year-old man with autism and severe learning disabilities (SLD).

Deborah contacted us via twitter in order to share with us and our readers the struggles that they are going through at the moment in order to transition Tom from school to college. As Deborah explained to us, the process for them is extremely challenging and they have met many obstacles along the way. However Deborah refuses to give up on her son and she will continue to fight for the education that he deserves and is entitled to.

Her twitter tags include those of #AutismAwareness #equality #disabilityrights and my #son #matters

Deborah told us that the family have been working with professionals from both social care and education through this transition process and that overall the process has taken two years in order to investigate colleges and future placements that would be suitable for Tom.

She further explained that the whole process culminated with a forum meeting that induced five professionals from different sectors, where they looked at all of the documented evidence and then made a decision based upon this about Tom’s future.

Sadly, Deborah told us that none of the professionals involved had either met or knows Tom, so their judgement was made based purely upon the paperwork in front of them.

Deborah told:

“Our part of the process was to make sure that the draft EHCP [Education Health and Care Plan] was as correct from our point of view as possible and when we received the first draft we spent a day altering and making notes which were all hand delivered back to the transition pathways adviser in preparation for the forum meeting which for us took place on April 8.”

Deborah SmithDeborah explains that although she appreciates the fact that specialist placements are expensive, they will fight for every opportunity available to support Tom’s future.

“He is entitled to the same opportunities as every other young man or woman of the same age regardless of disability.”

On April 9 Deborah phoned her transitions pathways adviser to see if she had any news. She was informed that she had, and that she would read through her notes. She then told Deborah that Tom will transfer to an EHCP until the end of July, as he is still at school, but then she took Deborah completely by surprise and dropped a ‘bombshell.’

“The forum has decided that Tom is unlikely to make further educational progress therefore they will not extend his EHCP and their recommendation is for the social care system to take over. I asked her to repeat this four times as I was completely flawed and did not understand. We have never been prepared for this outcome.”

Tom has been denied access to further education after he finishes school at age 19.

On the morning of April 10, Deborah managed to finally contact one of the attendees of the forum. Deborah requested appeal papers as well as the papers of the meeting’s outcome, and she was assured that these were being sent.

Deborah has now received the draft EHCP papers and has discovered numerous errors even though she had sent corrections.

“This document presented Tom and his future and it was still wrong and the biggest punch was the shear fact that his diagnosis was incorrect and his autistic diagnosis which was completed 9 years ago was missing. This means that a panel of people who don’t know Tom have not had the right facts, even though we hand delivered the revised documents before the forum.”

The family have now started the appeal process.

Tom2Prior to the meeting, Tom had been offered a placement at college, starting in September, and Deborah contacted them to see what their views were. She told us that they were horrified that Tom’s place had been declined by the panel from an educational point of view, as the college had completed a two day interview and overnight stay with Tom, as well as interviewing Deborah and various professionals.

“I was told by one of the panel members that the college did not understand the new process and I have conveyed this to the college. The college professionals were amazed considering it was themselves that actually consulted with local authority over the EHCP process.”

The college reassured Deborah, telling her that what has happened is usual in some respects, as every year all of their prospective parents are put through the appeal process as the local authorities do everything they can to save money.

“The specialist provision is never entered into lightly and we as a family have done everything asked by the very people who have now declined Tom his access to what he is entitled too.”

Deborah wanted to share her story with us as she knows that many other parents are going through similar challenges in trying to get their adult children into specialist college education.

We hope that Tom gains his place in his chosen college and we wish him all the very best in his future studies.

About the author 

Jo Worgan

Jo Worgan is a published author, writer and blogger. She has a degree in English Literature. She writes about life with her youngest son who is on the autistic spectrum. Jo tweets (@mummyworgan) and is also a freelance columnist for the Lancaster Guardian. ‘My Life with Tom, Living With Autism‘ is her second book and a culmination of her blog posts, and available on Kindle now, along with her first book, Life on the Spectrum. The Preschool years.

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