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Chester mum: Kinsale school, Flintshire, saved my autistic son’s future

WHEN her severely autistic son was excluded from school, a worried mum was left fearing for his life.

Ryan Hipkiss’s condition, which was left undiagnosed until he was six years old, meant he struggled with anxiety and behaved aggressively.

“We first recognised that there was something wrong with Ryan when he was about three years old,” said Chester mum Julia.

“He had speech and language problems and was not developing as he should have been.

“But he was not officially diagnosed with autism until he was six, by which time he was already in a special school.

“The first school he went to was fantastic. He absolutely loved it, but as he got older his behaviour became more challenging.

“It is not immediately obvious that Ryan has autism, because he is extremely articulate and speaks very well. But sometimes he will say the wrong things, or things he says come across in ways that he doesn’t intend.

“He also does not respond well to change, or things he feels are unjust and he likes to know exactly what he is doing on any given day.

“It can be very challenging, but these things are part of who Ryan is and they are important to him.”

Staff at the last ‘mainstream’ special school Ryan, now aged 18, attended were unable to cope with his challenging behaviour, a situation which eventually led to the youngster being expelled aged 15.

Julia, who has dedicated her life to caring for her son, said: “He was excluded in 2009 and there was nowhere else for him to go.

“Although he’d attended a school for children with autism, the school was unable to reduce Ryan’s anxiety levels.

“He was very anxious in group situations, especially in PE. He couldn’t cope with the unpredictable behaviour of other children.”

Ryan did not attend another school for nearly two years after his exclusion, because Julia was unable to find anywhere able to meet his highly complex needs. But in early 2010, while working at a school, the dedicated mum was told about Kinsale School by a visiting speech and language therapist.

The specialist facility, which is on the site of the former Kinsale Hall Hotel in Mostyn, looks after about 30 pupils aged eight to 19 – all of whom suffer from severe autism.

Run by the Options Group, pupils are able to gain qualifications, take part in outdoor activities and gain work experience.

Ryan was enrolled at the school in February 2010 and Julia, who has now moved to Chester, says it is the best thing she has ever done.

“Since arriving at Kinsale School two and a half years ago, my son is a different person.

“His anxieties are very well managed and as a result he is able to live a fuller and richer life.

“Since joining the school he has grown in confidence and enjoys a wide range of activities both on- and offsite.

“His self-esteem has greatly improved and he glows with achievement and praise.

“Ryan takes part in horticultural work experience outside school, and at school he runs his own car-washing business.

“He also loves the school’s weekly outdoor education day, when he goes out for walks and other outdoor activities.

“His many achievements are celebrated daily at school assembly. One massive achievement is the reduction of his challenging behaviour and his ability to tolerate other students and have positive interaction with his peers.”

Ryan, who leaves Kinsale when he turns 19, is now hoping to forge a career in agriculture and Julia, who lives with her parents and brother, who help care for Ryan, says his future looks bright.

“He is anxious about leaving school and I think he would stay there if he could, but I am hoping to find somewhere as good that will cater for his needs in later life just as well.

“I dread to think where we would be if we had not found Kinsale.

“I have no idea what sort of path Ryan’s life would have taken.”

Julia says it is her dream to see more educational facilities set up which are able to cope with youngsters with complex needs.

She said: “We had to fight and search for so long to find somewhere suitable for Ryan and it should not have to be like that.”