Vale of Glamorgan mum's fight for Welsh education for her autistic son

Lucy Brazier-Evans says she has had to fight for Welsh medium education for her son. Credit: YBAB

Lucy Brazier-Evans, from the Vale of Glamorgan, is a mother of three children.

Her son Alfie, who’s 13 years old, is autistic. 

Alfie was 7-years-old and receiving his education through the medium of Welsh when he received his autism diagnosis - but in an interview with S4C's Y Byd ar Bedwar, Lucy says the resources available to help him were only available in English. 

“He’s trying to deal with autism and all the programmes and everything in existence to help him to understand it is all in English. He doesn’t understand English because he’s learning through Welsh so it’s not going to work is it? It’s just a bit of a crazy system at the moment.”

When it came to deciding which secondary school Alfie would attend, Lucy wanted her son to receive specialist provision through a Welsh-medium mainstream school - but there were no schools in the Vale of Glamorgan that could provide that support.

Lucy's son Alfie, who’s 13 years old, is autistic

“I’ve had to send my son to a secondary school out of county, he travels via taxi an hour each way.

“He had to leave all his primary school peers to go to another school because there was nothing, there was no provision that was going to cope with Alfie’s needs within the Vale that we live in now.”

In the Vale of Glamorgan there are 11 Specialist Resource Bases within mainstream schools. The Specialist Resource Bases offer children the extra support they need within a mainstream setting. However of those 11 specialist bases none can currently provide their support through the medium of Welsh. 

Lucy wants to see better Welsh language educational provision for autistic children.

“It’s just not good enough, there isn’t the access that you have in English.”

“Why should I have to choose an English education over a Welsh education so that my child can be properly supported? That’s not right, that should never be allowed to happen.” 

A spokesperson from the Vale of Glamorgan Council said that historically, there have been insufficient numbers of children with complex needs to make Welsh medium specialist provision either appropriate or viable.

However, they say it has become clear over recent years that a growing number of children require this type of support so a Welsh-medium autism base for secondary school pupils will open in September, with a similar base for primary-aged pupils to follow in the near future. 

The lack of services for Welsh speaking autistic children has also been noticed by Helen Bucke, who is an Advanced Specialist Occupational Therapist in Autism, based in Llandudno, North Wales. Helen said that teachers approach her asking for Welsh language resources but said there is little she can offer through the medium of Welsh. 

“Resources in terms of what we can provide schools for example - so it might be work packs, it might be visual aids - very very little of those available in Welsh so teachers are often having to adapt those or design their own really.”

Helen has specialised in autism within the NHS for 15 years

Helen, who has specialised in autism within the NHS for 15 years said services need to be spread out evenly across Wales. 

“Unfortunately what we have is a postcode lottery of services. Both across England but also across Wales, and what that means is families that are really desperate for that support are willing to commit to move out of the area - if that happens we are then losing Welsh speaking families, and that's obviously a loss to the welsh communities.”

The Welsh Government’s three year plan to transform the Additional Learning Needs system is now in its ninth month - the Education Minister Jeremy Miles said the reforms put a duty on local authorities to provide education through the medium of Welsh for children with autism.

When asked whether autistic children who can speak Welsh are being let down when they go to school, the minister said he “recognises that it’s a particular challenge.”

“In the new legislation there is a requirement on each local authority to provide additional learning needs education in both Welsh and English on an equal basis.

“We’ve been working with our local authorities on their Welsh in Education Strategic Plans, which describe the needs that they have in terms of workforce and provision locally, and one of the key elements of our new Welsh language recruitment strategy has been in relation to Additional Learning Needs recruitment specifically.

“On top of that we now have a national lead for Welsh language Additional Learning Needs requirements and I’m sure that with that additional investment in the system, we’re working with GWE, the regional consortium in North Wales, to make sure that those resources, that support is available in all parts of Wales.”

You can see the full programme by watching Y Byd ar Bedwar on S4C at 8:00pm on Monday, June 27. The programme has English subtitles.