17th July 2017

Building independent futures for young people with autism

Building independent futures for young people with autism Cover Photo

Sarah Sherwood, Director of SEN at LVS Hassocks and LVS Oxford**, shares the schools’ unique approach to preparing autistic students for independent lives...

The most important aspect of education for young people with autism is equipping them with the skills they need to live independently as adults. LVS Hassocks and LVS Oxford’s approach is focused on educational achievement and building life skills to give young people a greater chance of living independently when they leave at 19 years old.

For many students it is therefore important to offer a wide and ever growing range of academic qualifications, so they can access relevant academic and vocational skills in a vibrant and stimulating environment. We create individual learning plans with defined goals. For some, such as Charlie at LVS Oxford, this is targeted at going on to further education.

LVS Oxford, which only opened in 2014, achieved its first GCSE results in 2016 with all results in the A*-C bracket. Charlie (pictured above) contributed to those results, and is now studying maths A/S level and a BTEC in ICT, with an offer from Oxford Brookes University to study further education there.

Having been a non-attender who struggled to interact with staff and peers when he joined in 2014, the school’s therapists and teachers have empowered him to express himself and find ways to learn effectively, resulting in this success. Staff have done everything to help Charlie achieve; with high anxiety, entering the room where he would take exams was a real issue for him, so LVS Oxford spent several months desensitising him to it prior to his exam. Charlie said: “Exams do make me very anxious, but the school has been very supportive in preparing me for them. I also use relaxation techniques that I’ve learnt so I feel more in control when I’m sitting exams. I’m definitely more confident as a person”.

Supporting academic qualifications with targeted work experience placements can help young people gain a number of advantages for the future. Enabling students to attend weekly work experience over an extended period of time gives them an opportunity to create independence and build new confidence in a social surrounding. It also shows them what working life is like and gives them the ambition to fulfil their employment dreams. We match students to relevant, achievable yet challenging work experience to give them confidence whilst developing the range of skills that they have. LVS Hassocks and LVS Oxford ensure students are as prepared as possible to go into further training for the job they want when they leave. Amy at LVS Hassocks is a great example. Her ambition is to become a hairdresser so she was supported and helped to apply for placements, and is now taken each week by a Learning Support Assistant to a local hairdresser where she is mentored, learning techniques which will help her gain future employment.

A former LVS Hassocks student, Liam Pope, arrived at the school unable to cook but showed an interest and was supported through cooking qualifications, work experience in a pub kitchen and assisted to find an apprenticeship in catering when he left. Within two years he had become Sodexo Young Chef of the Year and has made excellent career progress within the company.

These approaches to give students the skills they need to live independently as adults can only take place successfully with an individual-focused approach right from the start, engaging with the students on a one-to-one basis. As many as 60% of our students are school refusers who have often been out of education for as many as three years prior to joining, having been unable to cope with mainstream education.

Craig, 15, spent three years out of education, shutting himself in his bedroom and missing Year 8, Year 9 and all except the first few weeks of Year 7. His mainstream school could not cope with Craig’s behaviour which was driven from frustration at being singled out by other children for being different. After attending an open day at LVS Oxford with his mother Debbie, who describes the school as “a lovely place, very peaceful with beautiful grounds and perfect for Craig as he likes to walk and needs a quiet, relaxing environment”, a gradual transition began.

This was successfully achieved due to the school therapy staff’s commitment to constantly breaking down Craig’s barriers, and perseverance in helping him transition at a pace he was comfortable with. This included:

  • Home visits to create an initial home/school link
  • Initial trips just into the school grounds to develop familiarity with the setting
  • Visits to the therapy room, chatting with the therapists to reduce anxiety
  • Lunch with the therapists to develop trust
  • Transitions into lessons, with phasing out of additional support as Craig grew more confident

This patient, individualised approach has been rewarded, with Craig thriving to such an extent he is now Deputy Head Boy. He is studying qualifications such as a BTEC in Business Studies with his sights set on a career and independent future beyond the school – something he could never have imagined 18 months ago.

All students also learn other skills that will help them to live independently, such as practicing day-to-day tasks like cleaning, washing clothes and cooking, using public transport, handling money and shopping.

To book an open day visit, go to www.lvs-hassocks.org.uk or www.lvs-oxford.org.uk