There are fears autistic children in Sutton are missing out on vital face to face therapy as many sessions have moved online.

A petition to bring back in-person speech and language therapy launched by a Worcester Park mum was signed by more than 200 people.

Hayley Harding’s seven-year-old son Matthew is autistic and has speech therapy at his specialist school.

She said: “Last September they took away all the speech and language therapy. It is important for their development and understanding of the world. When they re-implemented it in January they did it by teletherapy [online].

“For my son it was far more stressful doing it through a screen. A lot of what therapy is about is anticipating what can distract a child.

"My son is distracted by anything so to keep his attention is really hard. You’ve got to be there to see this and to see them interacting with other children.

“Interpretation is very difficult for Matthew and the therapists help him understand the meaning of words.”

The petition was brought in front of Sutton Council’s people committee last week.

Opposition councillorTim Crowley walked out after a recommendation to reintroduce face to face therapy for children was turned down.

Sutton Council’s special needs services contractor Cognus has blamed a shortage of therapists and claims just 10 per cent of the 1,350 borough children receiving speech and language therapy get it online.

Since Hayley started the petition, face to face therapy has been re-introduced for Matthew’s class but she wants to see it brought back for all children in the borough.

She founded campaign group Sutton EHCP Crisis two years ago and has been advocating for parents and children with special needs since then.

She said: “It really upsetting for [the council] to say they are happy to give children therapy that is inefficient just to tick a box. It might not affect me personally now but it is affecting other children.”

Children and young people are entitled to the therapy if it is set out in their education health care plan (EHCP), a legal document that describes the special educational needs of a child and any extra help required.

Cognus’s managing director Joanna Cassey said: “Cognus is in agreement the ideal scenario would be for all children to receive therapy face to face. Given the national shortage of highly-skilled therapy practitioners, Cognus prioritises allocating the best skilled practitioner to deliver the support in the EHCP to each child.

“In relation to the allocation of staff to an autism base, staff need to have specific training and two years’ experience. Cognus supports 603 children with a diagnosis of autism and therapy is identified in their EHCP.

Councillor Tim Crowley called on face to face therapy to be “reintroduced to all children on a need by need basis.” The recommendation was not backed by the committee and Cllr Crowley walked out after saying “I’ve had enough of this”.

The committee agreed Cognus would meet affected parents and work would be done to address the shortage of therapists.