Christmas family photo in the spectrum design, text

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

With the festive season fast approaching, Frances writes about how the gift of a donation has helped transform her family's life...

 

My name is Frances and I have an autistic son named Caleb. If you hadn’t noticed, Christmas will be upon us soon. And Christmas is such a wonderful time of year, full of family, friends and love. It’s also a time to reflect…

This year I’m reflecting on the change the National Autistic Society has made to my family’s life and why a donation can make the difference.

We’ve had a year of real ups and downs. Caleb was moving from primary to secondary school. I knew that being autistic was going to make things trickier but I wasn’t prepared for the stress that followed. Caleb was denied entry to his first choice school where all his friends were. A place that he passes every day. A place that’s only one mile away. Instead he was given a spot at a school that was far away, where he’d have to get the bus on his own and he didn’t know anybody. Getting the bus may not be a big deal for some but for Caleb, his anxiety makes him throw up. Every time.

Imagine that - throwing up every time you get on the bus. Every morning. In front of your peers. The shock to your system every morning. You’d arrive too fragile to learn. You’d fall behind and not get the grades you deserve.

And Caleb loves school. He loves the rules, knowing where he needs to be. The defined expectations on behaviour and targets to pursue. It gives him structure. His friend’s applications were accepted but Caleb’s was refused. He was being singled out.

That’s why we need you. Caleb and the estimated 700,000 autistic people face daily discrimination because we live in a society that doesn’t work for them. That’s got to change.

So no, we were not going to be singled out. We had to appeal but I had no idea where to start. They set a date for the appeal meeting a month before he was due to start, which left us no time for his transition. My stress levels increased. They refused all requests to bring it forward. I was ready to snap. It got so bad that I had to take time off work. And that’s just me, it was much worse for Caleb.

So I called the National Autistic Society for help. The Helpline had lent a hand in the past with his transition from nursery to primary and now, they were there for me again.

They directed me to an adviser in the Education Rights Service team. They were like an angel. They gave me a list of solicitors who could help and talked me through the whole appeals process. The application was key. All these emotions, all these fears about his school life just spilled onto the page, but they helped me structure that into a strong application. Helped me put my thoughts in a way that would make sense to them. "Evidence, evidence, evidence," they would say. Every point that I made had to be backed up by evidence or refer to a law. Their knowledge and guidance through the whole process was invaluable.

We submitted the appeal and waited. We must have done something right. A week or so later my husband called me at work to say he’d got a letter. He was crying and I didn’t understand what was going on. He said Caleb had been accepted at his local school. The relief, the joy and the triumph all came tumbling out. I was crying, he was crying. We were both overwhelmed.

With help from the National Autistic Society, we’d done it. But there are so many more autistic people like Caleb and you can help them this Christmas with a gift that could change a life.

We’ll sit down for our Christmas knowing that the right school will be looking after Caleb and that he’s got the best opportunity to thrive. As a family, we’ll open presents - one at a time over several days just the way Caleb likes - safe in the knowledge that we don’t have to worry about Caleb’s education. We can just enjoy it.

This year the National Autistic Society gave me the gift of a happy son. We wouldn’t have the same boy that we have today if it weren’t for them. But we know there’ll be more transitions in the future and we know we’ll probably need their help again.

None of it would be possible without donations from people like you.

And better yet, this year’s appeal will be match funded up to £20,000 by long term friends of National Autistic Society. That means if you give a donation of £10 they’ll also give £10 to help fund National Autistic Society services such as the Helpline and many more.

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