Woman takes up law to fight for son with autism

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Image copyright Kate McMurdo / Hook News
Image caption Kate McMurdo fought for a place at an independent school for Lewis and won

A woman has taken up legal training to fight for her son's rights.

Kate McMurdo decided to arm herself with some legal skills when Lewis was diagnosed with autism aged four.

After she struggled to find a suitable school for Lewis, she said she used her legal skills in a meeting with Swansea council - and secured funding for a place at an independent school.

Mrs McMurdo, 37, now hopes to gain a PhD and work to "change the system from within".

"People are getting into huge amounts of debt and even selling their houses to cover the legal fees to fight for an appropriate education for their children," she said.

"I was horrified by the schools I saw - they were completely unsuitable. So I used my legal training to secure a place at an appropriate school for my son."

Mrs McMurdo, who previously worked on a coastguard rescue team and as a teacher, said Lewis hit all his developmental milestones for the first year of his life, but then the progress stopped.

"He wasn't developing social skills and interacting with other people and babies. Also, his speech was delayed."

When Lewis was diagnosed Mrs McMurdo realised she would need to arm herself with legal skills to be able to get him the support he needed.

Image copyright Kate McMurdo / Hook News
Image caption Lewis and his younger sister Isla

"I realised I would have to battle every step of the way to get Lewis the help he needed," Mrs McMurdo said.

"He only received physiotherapy that helped him walk at two years old because I accosted the physiotherapist in a hospital car park.

"Everywhere I turned, I encountered bureaucracy. I could literally spend every waking hour attending appointments."

Lewis entered mainstream education aged four at a local school with an infant special teaching facility - but it could only accommodate him until the end of year two.

Mrs McMurdo said: "I hated the so-called special schools I looked around. One of them even had a seclusion room that was basically a padded cell.

Image copyright Kate McMurdo / Hook News
Image caption Lewis reached his developmental milestones for the first year of his life

"I started looking into independent schools and found the perfect setting for Lewis an hour's drive away.

"There were only 13 children in the school and there was a kind, calm atmosphere where the pupils could learn and thrive, really reach their potential.

"But the school was expensive and I knew I had a fight on my hands to secure funding for Lewis."

Lewis' autism means he has the emotional capacity of an 18-month-old.

"It makes him very vulnerable because he has the physical speed and agility of a nine-year-old, so he is constantly at risk," Mrs McMurdo said.

"His learning disabilities and sensory issues are also severe."

Image copyright Kate McMurdo / Hook News
Image caption Kate McMurdo went on to achieve a legal practice with masters degree

Mrs McMurdo said a solicitor quoted her £10,000 just to fight her case.

"I didn't have that sort of money lying around," she said.

"I had ambitions of becoming a barrister and fighting for the rights of families with special needs children.

"The course was intensive and I often studied through the night when I was up with Lewis."

As Mrs McMurdo was supposed to be revising for her upcoming end of year exams, she called an emergency meeting with education representatives from Swansea council.

'I want to do it for Lewis'

Mrs McMurdo said within a week she heard Lewis had secured funding for a place at the school.

"Lewis is now thriving there. The school and its staff are the best thing that has ever happened to us.

"Since attending, they've taught him to start saying some words and he actually calls me 'mama' now, which means so much - I waited eight years to hear that.

"The whole experience has been life-changing. All Lewis' needs are met in one place and life is no longer a daily battle."

After passing her graduate diploma, Mrs McMurdo went on to achieve a legal practice with masters degree, and graduated in December last year.

"I wanted to do what I'd done for Lewis for other people. But I've had to accept that I can't realistically work as a barrister and care for Lewis. My whole life is going to be about him.

"Instead I'm going down the academic route because I can study at home in the middle of the night.

"I want to do it for Lewis, for my family and for society."