Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Plight of Danny; Nick Hornby Condems the Government for Leaving the Burden of Care of Autistic Children Such as His Son to Parents

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Plight of Danny; Nick Hornby Condems the Government for Leaving the Burden of Care of Autistic Children Such as His Son to Parents

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK SAWER

AWARD-WINNING author Nick Hornby has launched a powerful attack on the Government for not spending enough money on the care of tens of thousands of autistic children - such as his 10-year-old son Danny.

The best-selling novelist spoke movingly about his son's condition and described how parents face a daily battle against grinding bureaucracy, under-funded services and the seeming indifference of the authorities.

He said he could afford to pay for extra care for his son and that Danny's mother, his ex-wife, Virginia Bovell, was able to fight for Danny's rights.

But most others were not as fortunate.

Speaking to a packed meeting at Labour's annual conference in Bournemouth he said: "One of the first of many shocks one receives as the parent of a disabled child is that there is no one to help you negotiate the dense and dark forest of difficulties that has suddenly sprung up in front of you.

"Only a few parents are able to do this and even this fortunate minority go through hell and back to fight for what their children need and what they are legally entitled to."

During his heartfelt speech he paid tribute to Ms Bovell, who helped set up a special school for autistic children, saying: "It's not surprising that a child's parent should know more about him than anybody.

"But Danny's condition is such that his mother's expertise goes way beyond what one would normally expect from a mum."

Mr Hornby, the writer of Fever Pitch, How To Be Good and About A Boy, said parents such as himself and Ms Bovell were the lucky ones - middleclass, educated and able to navigate their way through labyrinthine local authority rules and appeals procedures governing the care of autistic children.

He said for many, caring for their children placed an often intolerable strain on their marriages, careers and sometimes sanity.

Listening to the speech was Children's Minister Margaret Hodge, who heard the writer condemn health professionals and local authorities for whom lack of cash had provided an excuse to ignore the needs of autistic children and their parents. Mr Hornby painted a grim picture of the care needed to help Danny. He said: "In the past month Danny has been seen by a paediatric gastroenterologist, an eye specialist, a

speech and language therapist, an occupational therapist; he's received an updated statement of special educational needs from the LEA (with reports from two educational psychologists), he attends a special school with the input of a behaviour analyst, and in all he has a team of eight teaching professionals working with him at school and at home.

"Oh, and he's had a repeat prescription from his wonderful GP for the laxatives he'll need for the rest of his life.

"A quick count shows he's being attended to by four doctors, eight teachers, three psychologists and two 'professionals allied to medicine' - 17 in all, in one month. …

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