A family is devastated after their autistic son was forced change schools and say he has regressed so much he has lost basic life skills including the ability to speak.
Charlie Gray, 14, has severe learning difficulties and poor motor skills. From the age of four his mum Vanessa said he steadily learned a range of skills at the independent Rainbow School for Autistic Children, less than a mile from his Battersea home.
Rainbow School near Wandsworth Common
Now Wandsworth Council has offered to send him to its boarding school in Kent, which the family has reluctantly accepted.
Rainbow School uses Applied Behaviour Analysis and Verbal Behaviour (ABA VB) methods of teaching autistic children, which Charlie’s parents said really worked for him. ABA breaks down every task into small achievable steps which are reinforced with rewards to encourage the behaviour. Meanwhile, VB concentrates heavily on teaching children speech and communication.
However, three years ago he was forced to change school by Wandsworth Council, which his parents argue was down to cost, and was sent to Paddock School, in Roehampton, which teaches children with a range of learning difficulties.
Paddock in Roehampton
The Grays borrowed £20,000 to take the council to a tribunal to fight against him going to Paddock, but lost. Mrs Gray said Charlie had seriously regressed and had lost all the skills he once had, including 240 phrases and the ability to do up zips.
Mrs Gray said alternative transport had to be arranged because the transport staff could not control him, and at one point he was even harnessed during a journey.
He was given an hour a day ABA training at Paddock but his family said this did not work because the method required more intensity.
The council has offered Charlie a place at a council-run residential school in Kent, called Bradstow, which the family has accepted despite being desperate for a return to Rainbow.
Charlie would have to board and it will mean a two-and-a-half hour journey to the Kent coast for his parents when they come to pick him up.
Charlie moved schools when he was 11
Mrs Gray, 49, who used to work in banking, said Charlie was robbed of his language and added: "He was making steady progress [at Rainbow]. He made fantastic progress with communication and with his ability to ask for things and say phrases like ‘help me’.
"They wanted to move him to Paddock to save money on costs. Paddock said he didn’t need ABA. He had been having ABA for nine years - we know he responded to it very well.
"We put up the cost but the [tribunal] panel were not convinced he wouldn’t do well at Paddock. People don’t understand [ABA VB] they think these kids are being trained like monkeys."
She said Charlie started losing skills within the first term at Paddock and added: "He is a victim of politics. It's not even funding because Wandsworth have just signed off to send him to a residential school that costs twice as much as the independent ABA VB school we would give our right arms to get him back to.
Following the change Mrs Gray said Charlie had become withdrawn
"It is nothing to do with Charlie’s needs but everything to do with politics and funding.
"We are devastated by what has happened to Charlie. He’s lost his education and what was working so well for him. We are struggling because he’s not learning any skills and not able to communicate anymore.
"What parent would go through what we have been through and continue to go through for fun? I feel I have failed him. I look at him and my heart breaks. I feel like I have let the establishment win."
She said Bradstow would cost the taxpayer considerably more than sending Charlie to Rainbow.
Paddock School was unable to comment but the school has been rated "excellent" by Ofsted, which in its last review said: "Pupils make excellent progress in both their personal and academic development. Their behaviour and attitudes are outstanding."
A spokesman for the education authority said: "We cannot comment on an individual child but it is important to note that both Paddock and Bradstow are exceptional special schools which specialise in caring for and working with children with severe autism. They are both rated outstanding by the independent schools watchdog and are recognised as providing some of the best special education services in the country."
For more information about ABA visit campaign ABA4ALL.