MY YOUNGEST son is hoping to start university in September here in Wales.
If he succeeds, it will be an almighty achievement because he was diagnosed as autistic aged three and as parents we were told to “not expect too much” from him.
To get to this point, it has taken time, effort, pain, parent-career expectations scrapped, immense input, fantastic teachers and an unshakeable belief that no expectation was simply not good enough for our son.
To do all this, as other parents of disabled children will tell you, requires one enormous battle against a system which at every turn is literally fighting against you.
But this week brought home to me just how inadequate, mean, shocking and failing the system is once a disabled child turns 16 and then again at 18 should they want to go to university like their peers.
Quite by accident I was searching for information on my son’s chosen university on an online student forum when I came across a heartbreaking message: a plea for help and advice from a disabled young man who’d just turned 18.
He wants to go to university in September but has quite simply hit a wall he cannot get over without significant help and expertise from people who can deal with the system as it stands.
The young man — we’ll call him Jack — received disability living allowance (DLA) up until his 16th birthday for his autism.
At 16, the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to his mother, saying his support was ending and inviting her to apply for an adult personal independence payment (PIP), should her son wish to carry on with his disability claim.
The mother had quite literally had enough of the system and told her son she wasn’t filling in any more forms, and that was that.
Although she continued to receive child benefit for the lad as he was doing A-Levels in school, he no longer had access to any disability benefit.
That in itself is shocking enough but when you analyse the university application process (which is run by Ucas) for disabled students, who can apply for extra support (called disabled students allowance, DSA), it becomes a complicated web, designed to stop all but the bravest to take on.