College responds to Government’s autism review

Young people with autism must have a voice

By Luchia Robinson

Principal, Vivienne Berkeley Credit: Luchia Robinson

The government’s decision to update the National Autism Strategy in England to include children and young people has been welcomed at Ambitious College – the only autism specific college in London.

Vivienne Berkeley, Principal at Ambitious College, Pears Campus, CONEL (College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London), spoke to Tottenham Community Press about what a review of the strategy could mean.

“There’s 1 in 100 people with autism in the population, so it’s really important that across the age range (0-25+), they are represented (…) so that they all get a voice in having some control over the choices in their lives,” said Vivienne.

She added: “I think what’s really important about this review, is that it builds on the impact of the Children and Families Act.

“(With that act) the hope was that education, health and care would work together to jointly commis- sion and co-produce to give a much more rounded, joined up service to young people. Reality is, that’s not what’s happening. What I’m hoping is, the review will see where there (are) still gaps in the system and make recommendations for those gaps to be plugged.”

Citing the experience of Ambitious College students, Vivienne explains:

“We’ve got a young man with us who was placed in two general FE (Further Education) colleges and was excluded from both of them before he came here. His mum had applied for a place here, but the local authority had turned him down. (He had to) experience failure twice before his mum got the place of choice, for her and that young man,” said Vivienne.

“I think the review will need to look at what the current barriers for young people and their families are. […] So in effect, what’s working and what’s not working.”

Young people with autism face barriers going into the school of their choice, the college of their choice and a workplace of their choice, says Vivienne.

Only 1 in 4 young people with autism goes into any type of post 16 education and only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time, paid work. Only 32% of adults with autism are in some kind of paid employment.

“We work really hard for our young people to access work experience,” said Vivienne.

“Our local partners are amazing. Bernie Grant Arts Centre has provided our learners with paid work placements.”

Vivienne added: “For us it’s about pushing those boundaries, pushing expectations and being really ambitious for our young people.”

Joseph, a second year learner at Ambitious College, has work experience at the college as part of a social enterprise.

“I want to do more things in the community,” said Joseph.

Third year learner, Jemar enjoys Maths and English. He also enjoys his work experience placement at a café, where he likes helping to prepare the food.

Community access and employment are just two of the core focus areas, preparing these young learners for their transition from Ambitious College into adulthood.

Third year learner, Jemar           Credit: Luchia Robinson

Vivienne believes that the review, which will be published later this year, will need to pay great attention to ensuring early diagnosis, early intervention and a system of co- production between partners, local authorities and local employers.

The National Autism Strategy, which was first released in 2009, provides guidance in identifying, diagnosing and assessing autistic spectrum conditions in adults.

But with statistics that show that 40% of parents with children on the autistic spectrum, wait more than a year for adequate support to be implemented in their child’s school; it is apparent that more provisions for children at school ages are required.

Writing in a letter to the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism and the Chief Executive of the National Autistic Society, Nadhim Zahawi MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families said:

‘This pivotal review will help to find out how we can further our understanding of all forms of autism, improve how children and adults are supported and transform the life outcomes for people with autism.’

As it stands, 63% of children on the autism spectrum are not in the kind of school preferred by their parents. 17% of autistic children have been suspended from school; 48% of these children had been suspended three or more times. Statistics go on to show that 4% of these young people had been expelled from one or more schools.

Prior to reviewing the strategy to include children and young people,the government will be collecting evidence from autistic youth, their families and carers as well as autism focused organisations, in order to assess how to improve levels of support.