Zoe Thompson is a veteran parent and RDI® certified consultant who, along with her late husband Dixon Milburn, set up Bright Futures School (BFS) for children with autism in Oldham, (near Manchester, England) in 2010. Zoe and her husband launched the BFS school because her local authority (school district) was unable to find a suitable school for their son Philip, who has a diagnosis of autism.

Zoe and Dixon made the decision to embed the principles and practice of RDI® in their school curriculum and ethos in order to immerse Philip in a social communication approach to work on the difficulties at the heart of autism. This worked well for Philip who, after several years using RDI® in both environments, came down from 19 out of 22 to 12 out of 22 on his ADOS score (which shows the severity of the autism).

However, none of the other pupils at the school were going home to an RDI® environment because of the difficulties their parents faced in finding funding for RDI® home programs. Zoe worked hard to try to convince the local authority (who paid for the educational provision of pupils at BFS) that parent involvement in helping children to master missed milestones was key in addressing core autism difficulties but unfortunately this fell on deaf ears and the local authority refused to fund any home programs of RDI®.

As anticipated, BFS’s experience was that whilst pupils who received RDI® at school made good progress with their social communication in school, this progress did not generalize outside the school setting. As all RDI’ers know – when it comes to helping children master missed milestones, parents are where the magic is at.

With the support of RDI® Consultant Sharon Bradbrook-Armit , Zoe kept working hard over several years to make the case that social communication provision to work on the core difficulties at the heart of autism (as RDI® does) was key to a child’s education: a child who struggles with social understanding, who finds it difficult to understand another’s perspective, is easily frustrated, sees themselves as a ‘failure’, has difficulties with emotional regulation, struggles to cope with uncertainty and unpredictability, has high anxiety and finds it difficult to pay attention, will have significant difficulty engaging in learning, making friends and living independently.

In 2017, having marshaled lots of evidence over the years, Zoe and Sharon, together with parents of pupils at BFS who had crowdfunded for legal advice on their cases, took 4 cases to Special Educational Needs (SEN) Tribunal. Unfortunately without legal representation during the Tribunal hearing itself, they were unsuccessful.

On December 20th 2018, Zoe and Philip, supported again by Sharon and a barrister who was working pro bono, went back to SEN Tribunal again. By this time Philip had graduated from Bright Futures School and didn’t want to go to college but wanted to continue to learn and to work on some of the more disabling aspects of his autism. Zoe and Philip put a proposal together for a ‘bespoke package’ of educational provision which included further learning in English, maths and IT, together with more practical sessions including baking, cooking, puppet-making (Philip has a plan to use the puppets to animate a story he has written and put the video on Youtube), job ‘try-out’ opportunities (including, for example, radio voice-over work) and volunteering. Running throughout all this provision was the thread of RDI® to help Philip further refine his social communication competencies and to support his emotional well-being.

On Tuesday, January 29th, 2019, Zoe and Philip received the court order with the judgment on their December Tribunal: the Judge ruled that Philip must receive the bespoke package as outlined in the court submissions – including the RDI® provision to help him improve his social communication and support his emotional well-being.

This means that RDI® has now been recognized by the First Tier Tribunal (FTT) as ‘educational provision’ in England. Although this doesn’t set a legal precedent (cases have to go to Upper Tier Tribunal on appeal to do that), it does give other parents the opportunity to use similar arguments for their children to have RDI® funded at school in their EHCPs.

This is a first for RDI® in the UK and we think it’s also the first time that any form of social communication provision has been deemed to be ‘educational’ and therefore capable of being funded and provided as part of a child’s EHC Plan.

Zoe and Sharon are supporting another case (for a current pupil at Bright Futures) to go to Tribunal – this time for a home program of RDI® as educational provision to meets needs along with RDI® provision in the school setting. This case will be heard in March 2019.

The consultant team is also thinking about running a workshop for parents in England looking for answers where they will outline the steps they taken to make the case that RDI® was an educational provision. Anyone who is interested in attending (it is likely to be in Oldham, near Manchester), please get in touch with Sharon at tisog@btinternet.com.

RDI Certified Consultant Zoe ThompsonZoe Thompson (BA Hons – Social Policy and Administration) is Head of Development at the Bright Futures School for Children with Autism in the UK., with responsibilities for staff training, the personal development curriculum, liaison with parents and outside agencies. She has a background in health education. As a fully qualified RDI® (Relationship Development Intervention) Consultant, Zoe uses her knowledge and experience of RDI® for the benefit of pupils at the school.

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