A desperate mum is pleading for help after her autistic son said his ‘life is over’, claiming he can‘t receive enough support to start his university degree.
Jane Collier, 54, was hoping her son Tom ‘Tomm’ Collier, 20, would have a smooth induction to his Computer Games Development BSc (Hons) degree at the University of Bedfordshire.
He had previously studied at Barnfield College, Luton, with an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan, a statement of needs that allowed him to receive daily one to one support.
The family assumed this would last until he was 24, seeing him through his BA course.
However, on receiving his college results - distinctions and merits - the family claim they were shocked to discover that the EHC Plan did not cover higher education and that Tomm would only receive one hour of support per week at university.
Jane said: “Autistic people have individual needs that don’t stop when they enter higher education. Tomm can become very stressed in new environments and will need lots of extra help to begin with.
“Ideally, we’d extend the EHC Plan, as one hour of support per week is not enough. Tomm’s dad has even said he will take early retirement to go and help his son study. He shouldn’t have to do this.”
Tomm was first diagnosed with autism at three years old. The condition means he has a lack of social skills, finds it difficult to make friends, doesn’t trust people of his own age group, and finds new environments hard to deal with.
At Barnfield College Tomm could receive daily support from a charity called MacIntyre, paid for by Luton Borough Council .
When he first started in the new college environment Jane says that because of his autism her son used to shout and scream - even if a chair moved he could get upset. But Tomm received one to one support and this meant the additional help was halved as he became more confident and settled.
Moving to university, Tomm was offered a ‘Brain in Hand’ scheme, where he could use a mobile phone to call a mentor if he got stressed.
But Jane said: “The university have tried to help as much as they can but his autism means that if Tomm is stressed he is more likely to throw the phone rather than call someone.
“I’m not saying it wouldn’t work in the future when he got used to the university, but in a new environment help over the phone is not the answer.
“Tom says that he is being ‘further disabled’ because he can’t receive the right support. He says his ‘life is over’ - as a mum that is very distressing to hear. We are losing sleep over this.”
The family’s dream is to see Tomm finish his degree and enter employment. Jane describes Tom as hardworking and studious, able to become used to new environments after support.
She said: “With the right help, I know my son can go on to have a great career.”
A University of Bedfordshire spokesperson said: “We have a great deal of sympathy for Tomm’s situation and our student support team have been working with Tomm, his parents and his support worker to assess his needs and put together a package of support.
“Tomm’s individual study needs have also been independently assessed and he has been awarded a package of support by Student Finance England (Disabled Students’ Allowances).
“However Tomm’s family are correct to say the Government does not provide funding for 1:1 wrap-around personal support at higher education level.”
A council spokesperson said: “Luton Borough Council is committed to helping residents achieve their educational aspirations. We are aware the family has been in touch with the University of Bedfordshire to see what support they can offer. We are liaising with them ourselves to jointly see how we can meet the special care and support needs Mr Collier has to enable him to study at the university of his choice.”