A Swansea mum whose battle over her autistic son’s education inspired her to study law has now pledged to help other families following her graduation from Swansea University.
Kate McMurdo, aged 37, embarked on a master’s degree while also juggling care responsibilities for son Lewis, aged nine. During this time, she also endured a personal fight for justice regarding his education.
This followed a long line of hurdles both she and husband Alastair, from Southgate, faced as they sought to give Lewis the support and care he needed, both at home and at school.
Lewis also suffered numerous health problems during Kate’s studies, including a period earlier this year when was admitted to hospital with low oxygen levels.
“Every day is a battle when you have a disabled child,” said Kate, who swapped a career in teaching for law.
“The bureaucracy faced is insurmountable and means that such families are placed at a real disadvantage. I have spent years limited in earning capacity due to being an unpaid carer and it grinds you down.
“I had become so weary of all the fighting and injustice that we faced as a family on a daily basis that it drove me to make a difference and to study law so that I can help my own family and others like ours to realise their rights and to change the disability landscape in Wales and beyond.”
While combining her studies with caring for Lewis and raising her three-year-old daughter Isla, Kate and Alastair battled the Local Education Authority over their son’s schooling.
They wanted Lewis to be somewhere that could care for his complex needs, and eventually won their battle for him to attend the Gwenllian Education Centre in Kidwelly, where he is now thriving.
“It was a very nerve-wracking time,” reflected Kate. “He (Lewis) is more vulnerable than a toddler because he has the emotional capacity of an 18 month old but the physical speed and agility of a nine-year-old, so he is constantly at risk. His learning disabilities and sensory issues are also severe.
“I felt it was a wholly discriminatory practice because parents of mainstream children are allowed to visit different schools and state a preference and therefore we should be able to do this too.
“Gwenllian have been absolutely amazing and it was one of the happiest days of my life when I found out he could go 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 8 years to hear it. The whole experience has been life-changing.”
Despite his education being secured, Lewis continued to encounter additional health problems and was admitted to hospital on numerous occasions while Kate continued her studies.
She missed three months of university earlier this year when Lewis suffered low oxygen levels.
This meant Kate missed a core exam period and consequently had to sit nine exams in the space of 10 days back in August. She passed every one.
“I was so happy when my tutor told me I had passed all of them,” she said. The elation at having made it through the two years and to have passed everything is so overwhelming. I have gained a different perspective on the things in life that really matter.
“But I could not have done any of this without the love and support of Alastair, who has believed in me all the way through and helped me to carry on when I thought I couldn’t. None of what I have achieved would have been possible without him.
Kate’s passion has been fuelled by the discrimination she feels parents and children with disabilities in education face.
“It’s about finding somewhere that will nurture and respect a learning disabled child for the people they are, which can enable a child to reach their potential and be safe and happy,” she said.
“The most important message I want to share is about the underfunding of schools. Currently, schools are so underfunded, this simply isn’t happening and children are essentially being punished for behaviour linked to their disabilities.
“My next next step is to try and study for a PhD. I would never have done all of this without that motivation and the love I feel as Lewis’s mother which makes me want to make the world a better and safer place for him and others.”