Today I am delighted to feature a guest blog from Anabel Unity Sale of Ambitious about Autism to highlight their Finished at School campaign:
Going to college after school is a rite of passage for many young people. Not if they have autism it isn’t. The latest figures suggest that less than 1 in 4 young people with autism continue their education beyond school. All too often, for many young people with autism school is the end of their education.
There are just 10,440 learners with autism in mainstream further education compared with over 43,000 children with autism in mainstream schools. In specialist colleges the numbers are even worse: just 3,600 places for learners. On top of this there are only a dozen or so supported employment projects for young people with autism around the country. Disabled people are 2.5 times more likely to be not in education employment or training (NEET) than their peers. Just 15% of adults with autism have a job.
These figures speak volumes. There is a generation of young people with autism being written off because they cannot access post-school education. Typically, their choices are to stay at home with their families or go to a residential care home, often with people over twice their age. What young person wants to do that when they are on the cusp of adulthood?
This is why Ambitious about Autism launched the Finished at School campaign last month. We don’t want to see young people with autism wasting their lives because they are not being offered the proper support to thrive and succeed.
In order to find out about the issues young people with autism and their families face when they leave school we commissioned some exclusive research. We spoke to young people themselves, their parents and carers, education providers and policy makers. The findings were sobering. Young people and their families describe facing a ‘black hole’ after school, and this causes them great anxiety and stress. “The options were non-existent. I didn’t have any choice,” a young person told us.
One parent reported similar difficulties: “There is very little provision out there and far too many people needing it. We have always been very focused, because you have to be. People who shout the loudest get the input. But what about those who can’t do that? What happens to them?”
Another parent revealed: “The world beyond school is a very scary place for Clare and me. My worry is that when she leaves school, Clare will regress and lose the skills and confidence that she has developed over the last 10 years. She needs to move on to a place that understands her and continues to develop her.”
Professionals working to support young people with autism also reported facing similar problems. Like parents and carers, they found the current funding system acted as a barrier to learning.
“Additional Learning Support rules are frustrating. I’m an expert in spreadsheets and maximising allocations – you become a bureaucratic fundraiser. I would much rather spend time improving the lives of learners,” an additional learning support manager said.
Education options are also limited. A transition support worker told us: “There is very little around London for our young people, and most of them are looking for something local. The things that are available tend to be far away, and parents don’t want to travel that far to their son or daughter. The recent care home scandal won’t have helped either.
There is an urgent need to create more effective education options for young people with autism once they have finished at school and to support them into work and community living. To help achieve this, Finished at School is calling for:
• A clear legal right to educational support up to the age of 25 for young disabled people
• A funding system that gives young people and families more information, choice and support
• A cross-government focus on outcomes and destinations for young disabled people
• A further education workforce with the skills to support young people with autism to achieve their ambitions
Robert Buckland MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, supports the campaign. He says: “I urge everyone to sign up to the Finished at School campaign. We will all benefit from the contribution young people with autism can make if we break down the barriers they currently face, and enable them to achieve their ambitions.”
It is not all doom and gloom though. There are some excellent examples of post-school education that support young people with autism to achieve their ambitions. Steve Philip describes as “outstanding” the support he has received at Weston College, in Weston-super-Mare. He adds: “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.”
* If you would like to pledge your support for the Finished at School campaign, share your own experiences or and read more about what we are doing please visit: www.AmbitiousAboutAutism.org.uk
Anabel Unity Sale is Press and PR Officer at Ambitious about Autism, the national charity for children and young people with autism
She is also an experienced broadcast and print journalist & author. Tania also runs a PR, web & social media consultancy, SocialOro Media. She is a Rare Disease & chronic pain patient advocate with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.
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