In this section we want to share the experiences of young people in further education - some positive, some sadly not so positive. They illustrate the importance of staff understanding autism and listening to young people/
My university experience has been significantly enhanced by having a mentor from the disability office who is trained specifically to support students with Asperger’s. I have weekly mentoring sessions with him and he’s been very helpful, I wouldn’t have been able to complete university without his support.
Danyul is a 22 year old student who attended at Blackpool and The Fylde College between 2007 and 2011. Danyul was first met by the college transition team at his mainstream secondary school Year 10 statutory statement reviews. This gave the college an invaluable opportunity to find out what support he was receiving at school and what strategies were being used.
This film shows two young people with autism's different experiences at college. One is of Jacque who is currently not in education. He dropped out of college after the first year when his 'buddy' support was withdrawn due to lack of funding. The other is of Freddy who is studying at Nescot College. He is doing well and has high hopes for the future.
Jake is 16 years old and has autism and social and communication difficulties. He attended Laleham School in Kent, a school for students with autistic spectrum disorder and language and communication needs. Over 12 years he became an integral part of the school community and was familiar with his peers and staff. Jake had significant concerns about moving into further education as college was going to be a much bigger and busier environment.
I have one lasting memory of mainstream primary school. I was four years old and went into assembly. I felt really frightened and held on to the hand of the boy next to me. It felt as if everyone in the hall turned to stare at me. I burst into tears. Luckily I only had to go there for six weeks in total before I went to a special school. My mum has told me the rest about my time before special school.
In June 2012, Max will finish sixth form and we hope he will go to college to study a BTEC Level 3 in Art and Design. Max knows what is expected of him at school and he puts in a good day’s work but college will be a big step for him; it’s a much bigger place with many more students and my fear is that, without support, he will get forgotten. He doesn’t mix with his peers and his only friends are his online friends who share his interests.
Peter joined Yeovil College in 2009 from a local school to undertake an A-level programme. He had achieved good grades at GCSEs and was particularly interested in maths and sciences. Peter had been diagnosed with Asperger’s and struggled with hand-writing, organisation and social interaction. He found social situations very difficult and during the college interview process avoided making eye contact and questions were generally answered by his mother.
Andrew came to Barnet and Southgate College to see how he could be helped. He was only 15, but didn't like school at all because he was bullied due to his behaviour. Andrew knew it was because of his autism that he was bullied, but he nonetheless had a dream of being the new Jamie Oliver. Andrew is an inspirational example of how an autistic student can achieve and thrive within an FE environment.
My son Jacque is 18 years old; he has autism/aspergers, social and communication difficulties. Jacque used to attend a school where he spent eight years and absolutely loved every aspect of it. June 2009 came around all too quick, Jacque was not prepared to leave and in his words “Mum I have lost my meaning". As a mother my heart was broken. Jacque was due to start College in September.
From the age of four until eleven I was educated at a well-known London day school where the obligatory uniform is knickerbockers and gold jumpers. Despite the duration of time which was spent there, a sense of belonging never developed and I was essentially tolerated but it is unlikely a better educational experience could have been found in any other establishment. At Common Entrance my teachers expected me to successfully interview for one of the best schools.
I am 19 years old and I have Aspergers Syndrome. I always found mainstream school hard, I had support in place but was never really told about what job opportunities would be available for me when I left. I left school with 6 A's and 2 C's and a BTEC First Diploma in Health and Social Care. I continued my education at college where I also struggled and was under a lot of pressure to attend university like my peers, but I knew I would struggle.
I have received outstanding personal support at Weston College. Having people around who are trained in and understand autism and how it impacts people, and who take the time to get to know me as an individual has changed my future, and has helped me get to where I am today. I think that there is a lot to be done which could help improve the lives of people with autism.
Jake was referred to Nisai Virtual Academy (NVA) by an autism charity last year having been out of education for six years. He had been home schooled between the ages of 10 and 16 for a number of reasons, mainly because he is easily intimidated and can become very withdrawn and not speak. He had low self-esteem which also contributed to his school refusal.
Oliver left a mainstream college over a year ago, where he was well supported and made excellent progress. He achieved a BTEC in Applied Science Forensics with a triple distinction. The difficulty had been identifying an appropriate next step. While academically a higher education course was within his capability, it was initially felt that the model of delivery, which is often lecture based, did not suit his visual way of learning.
George is a young man with autism, complex communication difficulties and health needs. When he was 19, his family were anxiously considering what he would do when he left his special school. They had looked at the local college, but found it was unable to meet his complex needs. They considered a residential provision, but the complexity of his needs made appropriate placements hard to come by.
My son Sam left school in July. Sam has autism with learning difficulties. At 19, he has reached the age at which the government relinquishes responsibility for the education of people like him. I hope I won’t come to look back wistfully at Sam’s school years as a lost golden age. I hope that the home-based timetable I’m in the process of constructing will serve his needs. But I’m daunted to discover how much is down to me.
If you want to share your story, please email Anabel Unity Sale, Press and PR Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org