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Not Stupid: One Woman's Fight for her Sons' (Special) Education

Hillingdon manor school By Anna Kennedy

In January 1990 I gave birth to my first son, Patrick. At first, despite several health scares, it seemed Patrick was progressing normally. Then, at the age of seven, he began displaying erratic behaviour and became extremely distressed at school. His educational progress was severely limited.

Three years later, I gave birth to my second son, Angelo, who, at the age of two and a half, also began displaying most abnormal behaviour. At an assessment, Angelo was diagnosed with autism and, naturally, this was a scary and devastating blow for my husband, Sean, and myself.

Meanwhile, Patrick's strange behaviour and protests at being taken to school intensified. He was diagnosed as having Asperger's syndrome but, unfortunately, it was three years before this diagnosis was revealed to me and my husband! This meant that Patrick, wholly unsuited to mainstream education, had been forced to endure the trauma of not understanding what was required of him, and taunts such as “bird brain” from other children, at a school totally ill-equipped to cater for his specific needs.

Worse was to follow, in fact, much worse! A total of 26 special schools, within an hours drive of where my family and I lived, turned down applications for my boys' placements. Doors were being shut in our faces on a regular basis and we hardly knew where to turn.

With a friend, I began a support group for families in a similar situation, which soon became fully subscribed. Faced with the difficulty of finding anywhere that would provide educational support for my boys, and our inability to find suitable childcare for children on the autistic spectrum in our locality, we took drastic measures. Having discovered a derelict school in Hillingdon, we approached the local council and asked if we could purchase it and turn it into a centre of excellence for children on the autistic spectrum.
There were numerous bureaucratic obstacles in our way, but we resolved to take on the endless red tape, small print and financial obstacles to turn this dream into a reality, despite the fact that we had no training in educational provision. This would be a daunting prospect for anyone, but with two young sons affected by autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), and a husband also diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, you can only imagine the endless stress, determination and hard work that was involved for me and my family.

Hillingdon Borough Council eventually agreed to lease the school to us, but at an asking price of £627,000! Obviously, we did not have such a sum of money in our bank account, but, even then, we refused to accept defeat; we re-mortgaged our small home and rallied the support of local councillors, local companies, charities and the media to get the venture off the ground. After much hard work, endless campaigning, tears and frustrations, we eventually found ourselves in a position to recruit an experienced headteacher and suitably qualified staff who would assist us in opening Hillingdon Manor School on 4 September 1999.

The school initially provided education and life skills to nineteen pupils between three and nineteen years of age, but that was just the start. Since then, Hillingdon Manor School has gone from strength to strength and has helped hundreds of children on the autistic spectrum to get the education they deserve and are entitled to.

However, because of the lack of suitable facilities elsewhere, the school soon became over-subscribed. As a result, I decided that we should take things even further. I was determined that other families should not find themselves in the position that my husband and I had endured with our own sons. The decision was taken to borrow enough money to expand the facilities we offered and, despite the personal financial risks involved, we pushed ahead with plans to open a new secondary school, which now provides specialist education for 95 children in total.

One of my chief desires, throughout all of this, has been to provide ongoing educational, vocational and life skills support for my sons and others. ASD are lifelong conditions, so there were real concerns for our sons' well-being once they passed normal school leaving age. With the help of our supporters, I therefore took the decision to further enhance our educational provision by setting up the West London Community College, a small, independent life skills centre which caters for the specific and complex needs of adult students with ASD. Using a person-centred approach, we provide high quality individual programmes for each student.

Not content with our schools and college, I was looking even further ahead. Our team created an eight bedroom residential home, now known as The Old Vicarage, where adults with an autistic spectrum disorder live, with support from specially trained staff.

All in all, it has been an incredible journey, from the initial idea for Hillingdon Manor School to where we are now, and it has been far from easy. However, when certain councillors and bureaucrats seemed more than willing to hinder or oppose our plans, I refused to give up. There have been so many tears and frustrations, but I have battled through every barrier placed before me.

I am sure that all mums and dad with children affected by ASD are all too familiar with the endless sleepless nights, worry and sheer hard work involved in providing their children with a reasonable quality of life. It can be lonely living in a house with three men all on the autistic spectrum; however, I would not have achieved what I have without them, since they have given me the drive and passion to keep going

My book, Not Stupid, was published in the UK in April this year. The book describes my fight to provide life long education and support for my boys and countless others, and it includes a glowing foreword by Esther Rantzen. Its title is derived from an hour-long BBC Video Diary documentary that was produced about my family as we struggled to establish Hillingdon Manor School. www.hillingdonmanorschool.org  

My latest project is a new online information portal for parents, carers and professionals who have an interest in autism: www.annakennedyonline.com
 

Comments

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Anna Kennedy

please vote me as 1 of the 6 finalists across the UK for OLAY/SMOOTH RADIO LIVE LIFE AWARD.
www.smoothradiolondon.co.uk

Thank you

Anna

Anna Kennedy

Zoey Roberts
Book review of "Not Stupid" written by Anna Kennedy

Here is my latest book review! hope you enjoy it! I know I did :)

I have had the privilage of reading a really wonderful book called "Not Stupid" by Anna Kennedy. She is married to a man named Sean who has Asperger's & has 2 sons, Patrick the oldest has Asperger's & Angelo the youngest has Autism. They live in the Hillingdon area of the UK (United Kingdom). This book "Not Stupid" gives insites to Autism & how it personally affects families. I also know this first hand as I have also have Asperger's (which is in the Autism spectrum family tree, its a social disfunction meaning for social interactions. Two of my nephews have Autism as well, the oldest one has low to medium verbal Autism while the younger one has high functioning Asperger's like I do, this story reminded of them. The ending also has notes by son Patrick & Husband Sean. This is a great real story! I agree with Sean in a quote from the book "I believe society's attitudes towards some disabilities needs to change. There needs to be more awareness of certain conditions if people with disabilities are to be given the opportunity to show what they can do in the workplace". This is a very heartwarming biography that is enjoyable by all! Anna gives the pitfalls, the good times & so on about the start of the start of Hillingdon school & her life with her family If you would like further insite about Autism & Aspergers, please visit my facebook group The Ultimate Autism Supergroup (Anybody in the Autism Spectrum) Group 1 for more info on Autism & the spectrum.If you wish to contact Anna you can contact her at Annakennedy1000@hotmail.com or contact any of the Hillingdon school sites here is here school website address:
www.hillingdonmanorschool.org.uk & another website www.autismconsultants.org. Special thanks to Anna Kennedy & family!

For More info please see my group The Ultimate Autism Supergroup on Facebook for full review...
Posted by spectrum times at 3:08 PM
Labels: book review video Zoey Roberts

michael framson

Anna,

Your story leaves me in awe over what you have accomplished. It seems clear that I need a recharge on my determination.


Tiffani

Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them. - Orison Swett Marden, 1850-1924, Founder of Success Magazine

You have clearly and boldly walked through each obstacle laid before you! Thank you for being such an amazing inspiration!!

Chris

What a great story; thank you for sharing! With the number of kids like my daughter going up, we are going to be needing more of these types of schools here in the States pretty soon, unfortunately.

I don't know a single parent in my shoes who hasn't had to sue their school district at one point and I am waiting for my turn to come. I have a feeling in a few weeks I am going to have a bit of a fight on my hands as I am going to push to have my daughter mainstreamed for at least an hour or two a day. She cannot really do any academics yet and she is still nonverbal, however she has a happy disposition and does well with other children in a group setting such as recess.

Judith

Way to go Anna! Very inspiring. I don't have your energy, so I will be homeschooling my ASD son!

Autism Grandma

Dear Anna,

WHAT A STORY!!! I am in awe at what you have been able to accomplish and overcome. You are an INSPIRATION to all of us, and compared to you, I personally feel like a little exhausted ant next to a charging elephant. Here I am sometimes wondering how I am going to find the strength to keep going with just the single project of my autistic grandson, and there YOU are, the Lighthouse Beacon of Determination!!!!

YOU ARE AMAZING!!! YOU GO GIRL!!!

Sorsha

my son also 'blew up' around age 7 after some health issues after his k round of shots. doesn't anyone else think its odd that symptoms are suddenly appearing in this age group more and more (like Tanner) or have normal toddlers always gone south in k-2 in these numbers? were there this many 'late-blooming' autistics in ages past?

nhokkanen

Oops, I win the "Duh!" award today. Those lovely lemon cupcakes ARE gluten-free! They're just not casein-free... the sour cream.

nhokkanen

Anna, thank you for sharing your story of hard work, determination, and success. Inspiring, indeed!

The link didn't work for me; after Googling I saw it needs the suffix ".uk". So nice to see the smiling and studious children's faces.
http://www.hillingdonmanorschool.org.uk/

The lemon cupcakes on Anna's website look absolutely decadent. Hopefully a gluten-free version would be equally delicious.

Clay

That is a truly wonderful story! Reminds us all that - Where there's a Will, there's a Way!

Anna Kennedy

Thank you all for your lovely comments on this site and on facebook.It is very much appreciated.I will keep you posted on further projects I am working on.My book 'Not Stupid' is now going to South Africa and will be featured in the popular You magazine in October.

Anna x

Deb O.

What an amazing story! Wish we could do something like that here in the States. I will have to read your book, Anna. Presently, we are homeschooling our ASD son.

Adriana

We all need to read this book because I'm afraid if we want our children educated safely and appropriately, we may have to follow suit. We'll certainly have to reinvent residential facilities and homes for adult children as well considering the state of institutions.

What a brave, brave thing you've done. The words love and tenacity must have pictures of your family next to them in the dictionary. Thank you for this.

AnneS

Anna, you're an inspiration!

kathleen

That is such a wonderful positive and uplifting story! Thank you so much for sharing it.

ashtree

Wow, such an impressive story and so humbling to read. I get my strength and inspiration to fight for my own family and those others in the community by looking to my hard working peers. With examples such as this, I can certainly do my part, as overextended and exhausted as I am. Thank you for telling us your story.

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