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Ambitious about Autism history

Our history

Our journey started in 1997 when a group of parents set up TreeHouse School. At a time when children with autism faced little or no chance of receiving a full and rewarding education, these parents were determined to change this for their children.

This pioneering approach has evolved over time as we’ve adapted and grown as an organisation. What started with four pupils has grown to become a charity that has supported thousands of children and young people with autism. Today we run schools and a college that focus on improving the quality of life of pupils and learners to enable them to learn, thrive and achieve.


Our origins

Ambitious about Autism was founded as TreeHouse in 1997 - a specialist school for children with autism, with four pupils based in a borrowed room in the Royal Free Hospital in North London.

Since then, Ambitious about Autism has grown and developed into the national charity that it is today, which provides services, raises awareness and influences policy. We moved to Muswell Hill, north London, in 2004 and moved into our purpose-designed building, the Pears National Centre for Autism Education, in 2009.

As our pupils grew up, so did we, developing our services to prepare young people for adulthood. In September 2014 we opened our Ambitious College Pears Campus at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London  (CONEL) serving autistic young people aged 16-25 across London and the Home Counties. In September 2017, we opened a further Ambitious College Pears Campus co-located at West Thames College.

In September 2014 our Ambitious about Autism Schools Trust opened The Rise School in West London. The Rise School is a special school co-located on the same campus as the Springwest Academy. In September 2019, The Rise Sixth Form opened at West Thames College to begin to tackle the severe shortage of post-16 specialist provision for pupils with special educational needs in the UK. 

In 2018, Ambitious about Autism turned 21 and launched our We Need an Education campaign calling for a fairer deal for children and young people with autism from our education system.

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic turned our lives upside down. But we know that for autistic children and young people, and their families, it was especially hard.  

We continued to provide our vital services throughout the pandemic. We expanded our Learner and Family Support service to offer direct support to families of autistic pupils and learners at our schools and college. The service provided a vital source of support during the coronavirus pandemic such as liaising with local authorities and facilitating access to urgent health care.

In 2021, we launched our new three-year strategy to help create a future where every autistic child and young person can be themselves and realise their ambitions. 

Providing autistic children and young people with an excellent education is at the heart of what we do. We’ll continue this through our growing network of schools and our college.  

But we also recognise that to truly thrive, autistic children and young people need holistic support in all areas of their lives including education, health, employment, citizenship and family and relationships.