“I was excited to hand over the petition so what happened to me doesn’t happen again.”

These are the powerful words spoken by James Parker, 13, after delivering a 13000 name petition to Downing Street yesterday. 

13 parents, children and teachers from Durham joined thousands of other families across the nation with children who have special education needs and disabilities (SEND) to protest over funding cuts that have left many pupils without appropriate support and unable to attend school.

Among the protesters were a number of our Autism Activists, who are using protest art to both educate and inform society. A collaboration between the Thought Foundation, the North East Autism Society and artist Dani Gilbert or iAMi, saw a small group of autistic young people come together to express themselves and fight against the statements that hurt the most, like autism can be cured.

Their hard-hitting messages were carried to Westminster as they marched together calling on the Government to end what campaigners say is a ‘national crisis in SEND funding and delivery.’

The Local Government Association estimates councils in England face a SEND funding gap of more than £500m this year.

Emma Parker, primary teacher and Mum of James, believes children deserve better and saw the protest as an opportunity for their voices to heard.

Emma said:

[James] is struggling to engage with the curriculum. He’s a really, really bright little lad who has been broken by the education system.

We want more money for SEND. We don’t want our children to be deemed a drain on schools. We need schools to be fully funded and we need child adolescent mental health services to be fully funded.

James has spent 29 months out of school over the past five years as a result of reduced timetables and exclusions.

Kerrie Highcock, family development manager, said:

It’s a basic human right that children have access to education. As a society, we’re failing and we’ve got to do better.

An increase in funding could allow schools to meet the individual needs of their pupils and provide bespoke support. It could also allow specialist training to be delivered to providers on autism and co-occurring conditions, ensuring autistic children enjoy the same right to education as anyone else.

We hear so many cases of children being in the right provisions, but with the wrong support and this is just unacceptable.

“The Autism Activists are a group of young people making positive societal change. I felt incredibly proud to see many of them yesterday raising their voices, taking a stand, and being heard on a national level.

“It’s time we all took a step back and listened to what they’re saying. It’s about their experiences, their lives, and their futures. The current dynamic needs to shift. We need to put the people making the decisions on the same level as those who will be affected.

“It’s time to listen.”

Why we’re Going for Gold

As the region’s leading provider of services and support for children, young people and adults with autism or other examples of neurodiversity, part of our role is shaping the narrative on how people view and understand autism.

Rather than the language of deficits or disabilitywe want autism and neurodiversity to be celebrated and accepted; to be seen and understood in a positive light. We also want our region to lead the way in being autism-friendly.

To find out more contact: 

Kerrie Highcock, family development manager 

T: 07825585313