THE mother of a child with autism has slammed the lack of funding for education for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) after she was told that her son had been denied access to a primary one placement at The Hub at Sanderson’s Wynd Primary School in Tranent, instead being offered a place in Dunbar.

Dexter Archibald, four, has ASD, and has attended both playgroup and nursery at The Hub since he was two, before the playgroup (Kidzone) was shut down when a staff member retired and nobody was hired to replace them.

Dexter’s mother Lee MacDonald, 32, of Inglis Avenue, Port Seton, told the Courier: “We have received a letter denying [Dexter] access for his primary one placement at The Hub.

“The Hub is one of only two such facilities in East Lothian, which unbelievably only has six places available for his age range; and spaces only become available when a child leaves.

“We have been informed no children will be leaving so the only option available is a place at The Cove in Dunbar – a 40-mile round trip – or a placement in mainstream school with a support worker.

“These children are being hopelessly let down by the education system and this needs to be addressed.

“Autism is much more prevalent and increasingly diagnosed, therefore demand for dwindling placements is increasing year on year, yet national and local government funding is being reduced in real terms. How can this be allowed to continue?

“It seems we’re lucky to receive the offer of a place at The Cove, and it is appreciated, but this means ripping him away from everything he knows and is comfortable with.

“Starting again somewhere new and unknown with his complex needs can only be detrimental to him, and likely traumatic to say the least. Yet no one in authority seems to care enough to do something about it.”

She added: “It is outrageous that there is no provision for him closer to home.

“Dunbar is a totally foreign place, he has never even been there and he will struggle to make friends in the area.

“I think it’s going to be very, very difficult for him and a very long process.”

Figures produced by the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) last April highlighted a dramatic increase in the number of Scottish school pupils identified with autism, dyslexia and other conditions.

The figures, based on an analysis of the Scottish Government Pupil Census, show that between 2012 and 2018, the number of pupils identified as having ASD in publicly funded primary, secondary and special schools more than doubled.

In the same period, the number of specialist teachers for children with additional support needs decreased from 3,840 to 3,437.

Charlene Tait, deputy chief executive at Scottish Autism said: “Dexter’s situation is sadly part of an all-too-familiar story in Scotland, where we are struggling to meet the rising demand for additional support needs within schools.

“Last year’s ‘Not Included, Not Engaged, Not Involved – a report on the experiences of autistic children missing school’, which we jointly produced with partner organisations, highlighted key challenges mainstream schools are facing in supporting autistic pupils with current levels of resourcing.

“The increasing demand on mainstream schools in a climate of tightening budgets is a key issue, as any decline in support enhances the potential for autistic pupils to be excluded, often unlawfully, which can be highly detrimental to their education and social development.

“Despite current fiscal challenges, we need to see a greater focus in this area with additional resources, including appropriate teacher training, if we are to create an education system which enables autistic children to thrive.”

An East Lothian Council spokesperson said: “Places are allocated according to need and determined by space and class size, rather than being determined per year group.

“As the process to arrange placements from August 2020 is still ongoing, it is too early to provide specific detail on exactly how placements will be allocated within the specialist provision we operate.

“We recognise that there is increased demand for services. The local government settlement is being announced later than normal. This impacts on finalising the council’s spending plans.

“The council budget for 2020/21 is due to be agreed at the full meeting on February 25, after which there will be greater clarity on spending plans for the year ahead.

“In the meantime, we will continue our planning work to ensure we continue meeting the needs of children with additional support needs.

“Regarding Kidzone, following the integration of education and children’s services, a service review is taking place looking at the future provision of such service.

“We are always committed to meeting the needs of children with additional support needs and we work closely with their families. All children who are assessed as requiring a specialist placement for August 2020 will be made an offer of a placement that meets their needs.

“At a time of increased demand for these services and in a challenging financial climate, we are carrying out planning work to ensure we can continue meeting the needs of all children into the future.”