Whistle is blown on official approach to autism

Janis Newcomen, who has been an NHS neuropsychologist for seven years, has quit her job because of what she sees as official discrimination against children with special needs. She believes that the system is in crisis, but, as in the story of the emperor's new clothes, no-one is willing to admit to the awful truth.

As a specialist whose job is supposed to be to help children who have special needs, Dr Newcomen says she felt 'handcuffed' by pressure to place the policies of the NHS and local education authorities ahead of her clinical judgement as to what is best for each individual child, so she has resigned and will return to the US.

NHS bosses, she claims, expect paediatricians to make a diagnosis and then send the family of an autistic child away with a brochure and the telephone number of the National Autistic Society. Most, she says, are not offered repeat sessions, but those who are, are placed on a second, much longer waiting list, which is 'kept secret'.

Local education authorities dislike clinicians making a recommendation about the type of school placement they think a child would benefit from and they are reluctant to issue a formal 'statement', specifying a child's educational needs, because these have cost implications for LEAs.

The result is that many autistic children are being taught in large classes in busy mainstream schools, with less than adequate support, when as many as 75% of them would, in Dr Newcomen's judgement, be better placed in a special school, where they would benefit from smaller class sizes and more intensive support.

Parents struggling to get their children's needs assessed and met by local education authorities and schools is an all-too-frequent occurrence, according to Dr Newcomen. Parents who remain passive can wait for years and only those who make a fuss get the provision their children really need.

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First Published in January 2007

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