We are Emma and Paul and have two boys, Max aged 14 and Zac aged 11. Max is autistic and was diagnosed at the age of 5. He struggled in mainstream school for several years until we took the decision to find a placement at a special school. After a battle with our local authority, Max was given a placement at a fantastic primary school. Over the five years he was at the school Max flourished and achieved so much.
When the time came to move onto secondary education, the clear choice was to attend the special secondary school next door. We had no reason to doubt it would be the best place to meet his needs; the reality, however, was traumatic and disastrous for Max.
Despite a great deal of work on the transition from Max's old school, the secondary placement chose to ignore the advice offered to them to help Max. Max's behaviour quickly deteriorated, his mood changed and his aggression spiked - after three months the school decided they could not guarantee Max's safety or that of the staff and other pupils. All the hard work Max and his old school had put in over five years was undone in a few months. We felt we were backed into a corner with no choice but to voluntarily take Max out of school.
What followed was nine months of Max not being in full-time education. Because we had voluntarily removed him from school we fell off the local authority's radar and no help or guidance was forthcoming. Max became increasingly withdrawn and unhappy, just wanting to stay in his room. A few weeks after leaving his secondary school, a trial placement was found for him but by this point, Max's confidence and general well-being were so low the placement was quickly deemed unsuccessful due to Max's increasingly challenging behaviour.
We sought advice from our GP to see if we could help reduce Max's anxiety as this was the biggest hurdle he had to overcome before he could access full-time education. A CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) referral was made but after months of waiting, we sought private help. We found the help Max needed and were able to get him medication to try and make his day-to-day life less stressful. Over the coming months, we felt Max was on a more even keel, but the question remained as to where Max could learn and be happy.
The local authority began to show interest in Max again. They suggested schools (all mainstream!) but we sought out special schools to visit, desperately looking for somewhere that felt 'right', that we knew could provide Max with everything he needed. We started to lose hope that anywhere existed until a close friend suggested we contact St Elizabeth's. She used to work for the centre, her description of the kind of place it was and the work they did gave us hope. She suggested who we should call and we wasted no time in getting in touch!
Emma and I went to visit the school soon after and were impressed by what we saw. Everything about St Elizabeth's made us feel Max could do well at the school. The attitude and experience of the staff, the facilities and layout of the school were very impressive and reassuring. It was a place we knew could take Max as they found him, and help him to become the best version of himself that he could be.
Max came for a visit with his brother and was very comfortable (though a little nervous!). The visit went well and before we knew it he went in for his assessment. We had the usual dance with the local authority, but during the summer break of 2017, we got the news that Max had been offered a place!
In September 2017 Max started at St Elizabeth’s on a very carefully planned transition. It was taken at a pace that ensured Max got the best start possible at his new school.
Since then we have seen the return of our brilliant, funny, loving boy. Being at St Elizabeth's has not just had a positive impact on Max but on the whole family. Our home life is much calmer, so different from the months Max was off school when his mood and self-esteem were at rock bottom and violent meltdowns were the norm.
The school's dedication and hard work with Max bring us so much hope for his future. He has achieved so much in the last 12 months and continues to amaze us with his progress, not just with his learning but in handling himself as a young adult and facing everything life has to offer.