Autism school in closure fear

CONCERNED parents with autistic children are outraged to hear that a vital service in Stevenage which supports the vulnerable is to close. Tracks (autism) at Lodge Farm Annexe, in Mobbsbury Way, a pre-school which offers respite care service for children

CONCERNED parents with autistic children are outraged to hear that a vital service in Stevenage which supports the vulnerable is to close.

Tracks (autism) at Lodge Farm Annexe, in Mobbsbury Way, a pre-school which offers respite care service for children aged two to five with autism and communication disorders will close on May 23 after five years in operation.

The independent charity which currently runs Mondays and Thursdays from 1pm until 4pm and Wednesdays from 8.30am until noon is just one of three in the country but last week trustees revealed it will be closing its doors because of funding shortages

Judy Coad, one of two teachers in charge at the pre-school, said: "Unless we have a dramatic influx of grants we're going to close. In the short term we need around £5,000 but fundamentally we need core funding of about £15,000 a year.

"What we're hoping to do is try and involve local companies that would be willing to sponsor a child.

"It's a small charity and run hand to mouth so we knew things were tough but we weren't aware it was so dramatic and that we would have to close so quickly.

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"We have worked very hard to try and keep it going. Tracks is the one time autistic children go to something that's designed specifically for them and we're looking very hard to find a way out of this situation. In the meantime Hertfordshire County Council runs an excellent autism advisory service for children on the autistic spectrum."

Parent Michael Maguire, whose four-year-old son Tom attends the school twice a week, said: "I and all the parents whose children attend the pre-school find Tracks invaluable. Autistic children generally find change more difficult to cope with than other children and many of them require the special help that Tracks provides. Attendance at Tracks has become part of the routine for these children and for many is their only experience of nursery and they and their parents will be lost without it.

"The staff at Tracks are exceptional people and I cannot sing their praises highly enough. There is a general need for this type of care for autistic children of pre-school age where the children can be left with specialised carers where the child to staff ratio is low. Tracks is already over-subscribed and if this exceptional facility closes the most needy and vulnerable children will be deprived of its unique services."

Clare Lyons, Tom's mother, added: "It's outrageous this incredible service is going to be taken away. It offers a very supportive environment and is highly specialised and our son has benefited hugely.

"When he starts mainstream school in September he will be more socialised and understand things that aren't obvious to children with autism. The younger you are the more malleable the brain is, so the more you can do early on the better the long term outcome will be.

"As a result of attending the sessions he can now sit down in a circle, join in and interact with his peers and sit down quietly with other children.

"The teachers are tuned into the children. They know how to reach out to them and are on hand to give advice to parents, something teachers at mainstream school aren't specialised in."

If anyone would like to sponsor a child or make a donation to prevent the school's closure call Judy at Tracks on 01438 314702 or email her at: tracks123@tiscali.co.uk

* To contact the autism advisory service call 01707 320697.

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