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The parents of an autistic teenage boy were warned he would be taken into care after they objected to him being given powerful hormone drugs to help him change sex.

Doctors at an NHS clinic had recommended he be given puberty-blockers - which delay adolescence - after the youngster declared he believed he was female.

But his mother and father, fearing the potential side-effects of the drugs, stopped him going to the clinic. And they suspected his abrupt decision to change sex was a result of his autism.

After the boy told the school he had been barred from treatment, a teacher told his parents that they should find alternative accommodation for their son or else he would be put into temporary foster care. And the school reported the couple to children's services for being 'emotionally abusive' to their son by not supporting his wish to change gender.

A month later, the local authority placed him in a child protection plan after social workers concluded he was likely to suffer 'significant harm' under his parents' care.

However, the family avoided seeing the boy go into foster care because a family friend agreed that he could live with them. Children's services have now taken the boy out of child protection and earlier this year he moved back home.

The parents, who are both middle-class professionals, revealed their ordeal to The Mail on Sunday after reports that at least three children were taken into care last year because their parents objected to them changing gender.

The mother, who asked to remain anonymous, told how the experience almost 'broke' the family.

She said: 'I'm absolutely devastated. When I saw the report that social services wrote about us and saw the words "emotional abuse", I just broke down.

'All we were doing was trying to get him to pause and think about his actions. My biggest worry as a mum is my child gets pushed down this route, becomes a woman, goes through the surgery, then gets to 25 and says, "I've made a mistake."'

The family's problems began in 2015 when the boy started struggling to cope with the pressures of secondary school due to his Asperger's and autism. He started to self-harm and his parents asked his GP to refer him to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

During an appointment with a child psychotherapist, the boy announced he believed he was female. His parents said he had never mentioned such a belief to them previously and suspected that his sudden interest in changing gender may have been another of his autistic obsessions. However, they agreed for him to be referred on to the Leeds branch of the Tavistock Clinic - the only NHS service for under-18s who are confused about their gender.

But they became frustrated by the 'vague' approach of psychologists and their apparent failure to 'get to grips' with the boy's autism.

The final straw came when they saw a report recommending that their son, who was approaching 15, be prescribed puberty-blockers.

'We had read that these blockers might not be reversible and there might be long-term effects for brain development,' his mother said. So in 2017, the couple took the decision to remove their son from the care of the Tavistock.

Six months later, the school informed them that their son would not be returning home and they were being reported to children's services.

His mother said: 'They were worried because he was coming out of lessons, going to the toilets, cutting himself and saying that Mum and Dad wouldn't get on board with him wanting to be a girl.

'The school and social workers took what our child said as gospel. But considering he has autism, his perception of social scenarios is seen through an autism lens.'

Although the family are back together, the boy's mother is still angry about their treatment. She said: 'I cannot bear the thought of other families going through what we've been through. It has been horrendous.'

The Mail on Sunday reported last year that a third of those referred to the Tavistock show strong signs of autism.