Sunday Life

The boy with no school

By Pauline Reynolds
29 August 2004

Stephen Telfair can't buy his young autistic son a school uniform for the new term - because he's got no school to go to.

The anxious dad feels no one wants to take responsibility for 11-year-old Andrew's educational needs.

And while other kids are excited at the prospect of going back to school after the summer break, the youngster has nothing to look forward to.

The Greencastle lad has just been turned down for a place at Cedar Lodge Special School, in north Belfast.

Ironically, the North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) suggested it was best suited for his needs.

Now his family are back to square one, and have no idea when - or if - he will ever get a suitable place.

"We've been battling with the authorities for years to try and get Andrew's education sorted," said dad Stephen.

"But we are fobbed off at every turn.

"We really don't understand why no one will take him, when it's so obvious he has special needs - and we have it in writing from medical experts.

"It's almost like he's being discriminated against."

Andrew suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.

But he's never been given the chance of an education within a specialised system.

His primary school days were spent in a mainstream school, which he found very difficult.

Andrew's condition interferes with his ability to mix with other kids.

It affects his speech and he has problems understanding complex sentences.

He also has many irrational fears. The youngster is terrified of the rain, and if it touches his skin, he feels a burning sensation.

His dad and mum, Fiona, have already got their other two children, Matthew, 6, and Rachel, 13, ready for the start of the new school term this week.

Andrew can do nothing but sit and wait.

"We're at our wits' end," admitted Stephen.

"We are begging the authorities to come out and visit Andrew and assess him for themselves, if they don't accept medical reports.

"The whole situation is heartbreaking."

Cedar Lodge Special School was contacted for response, but did not reply.

A statement from the NEELB read: "We have been informed by the Belfast Education and Library Board that Andrew has not been given a place at Cedar Lodge School, as the school felt unable to meet the child's needs.

"The North Eastern Board is making efforts to seek an alternative placement."

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