First 52-week residential school for autistic children opens in Wales|
BRONLLYS, Wales: Parents with severely autistic children will no longer have to send them outside Wales for year-round residential education.
The first 52-week residential school for autistic children has opened in Bronllys, near Brecon, with spaces for eight pupils. The first pupil was due to start this week.
Until now, families in Wales wanting residential care covering holidays and term times have had to send their children to schools as far away as Scotland.
The new £2m Ty Orbis school will provide 24-hour learning and support for young people aged 11 to 18 nearer home.
At the moment, more than one in every four children with autism in Wales attends a school outside their local authority area and 13 per cent have to travel outside Wales to be educated.
Ty Orbis's headteacher, Maggie Harries, said she aimed to create a homely environment where pupils would "feel secure and loved."
Facilities at the new residential school include a gym, a sensory area, science, technology and art facilities and a music room. There is also a large garden which, it is hoped, will be used as an area for outdoor learning and lessons. Therapies would be built into the learning day, rather than being tacked on or interrupting the demands of the National Curriculum, said Harries.
"Our priority is to keep Welsh children in Wales. Until now, they have not been able to be educated and live in their own country. There are residential schools for children with autism in Cardiff, Penarth and north Wales, but they are not open for 52 weeks of the year. Children with autism like continuity and don't want things to be out of order. If you send a child home for Christmas it can be the worst possible scenario. There's a tree in the living room and things are not as they usually are.
"We do encourage home visits but not necessarily when other siblings are at home or at times when things are different," Harries said. "There is a huge hole in education provision for people with autism. People are beginning to be more aware but it's slow."
The Orbis Healthcare and Education group has built the school. Pupils will be sent by local authorities with fees paid by local education, health and social services authorities.
The opening follows the recent publication of the Welsh assembly Government's draft strategy to improve the quality of life for people with autism. Local authorities have been given an extra £1.7m to help them review existing provision for children and young people with the condition.
Harries said: "The school will turn education round for these pupils. The school will follow the National Curriculum and be inspected like other schools. But here, because we are 24-hour, the national curriculum can be fitted around therapies and provided at times to suit pupils.
"If they want to learn in the evening or early in the morning they will be able to do so. There is a massive kitchen garden with chickens and sheep and we hope we can do numeracy, literacy and science out there.''
As well as eight residential places, the school has four day places. There will be four teachers and each child will have a unique education and care plan.
Autism is a developmental condition that includes a failure to interact or relate socially and a failure to use language to communicate. People with autism can also have an obsession with things being the same. This can cause them to develop repetitive behaviour.
Dr Bernard Charnley and his wife, Julia, are relieved that they will no longer have to drive for four hours to visit their daughter at school. Lack of provision in Wales meant they had to take the tough decision to send their eight-year-old daughter to school hundreds of miles away in Scotland. For the past seven years, their daughter, now 15, has been educated alone at a school in Ayrshire.
The Charnleys, who have two other teenage daughters, had to stay in Powys for their jobs and their other children's schools. They brought a flat in Scotland to be nearer to their autistic daughter but it still required a gruelling eight-hour round trip and made keeping in contact hard.
Their daughter will now become the first pupil at Ty Orbis. The new school is just a 20 minute drive from the home where her parents and two sisters live.
"Her unpredictable behaviour meant it was difficult to look after her at home,'' Dr Charnley explained. "She could get very upset and destructive. Children with autism need continuity through the day. There was no appropriate provision for her in Wales at that time. We are pleased that we will now be able to see our daughter more frequently."
Dr Charnley, who is also branch officer of the south Powys branch of the National Autistic Society, said there was a lack of residential provision for people with autism. "It is a problem which needs addressing" he said.
(Source: Western Mail, March 1, 2007)