16810835_10208059300539733_1822699325_o   When it comes to the question of support for hidden conditions, you can trace it back to how much they have – or haven’t – received during their teen years. A scary time when you’re filled with self-doubt and uncertainty, trying to come to terms with the world and yourself… and that’s just the ones WITHOUT hidden conditions.

At the risk of sounding like a wannabe David Attenborough, education is intended to be the bridge people walk along towards employment, and thus to ensure the sturdiness of this journey, myself and Talent Match Leicestershire Emma Southern travelled far and wide to a location where the powers of navigation waned and pure instinct alone may not be enough to see us through the day…


To be fair, I’m mentally stumped by any location that isn’t Leicester.

We arrived at Stephenson College at 1400 hours – I’d like to say with military precision, but I’d be lying – and entered the college where we met with our old friend and ally, autism consultant Kevin Baskerville who escorted us through the building. On the way, we took in the spacious environment of the college, giving me pause for nostalgia. I must say, one of the most regretful things about our generation is that we aren’t going to get to experience all of the tech that is in the pipeline, like virtual reality helmets, robots in design and technology, ‘literal’ memory sticks…

We were seated in a room with various representatives from various colleges, including Loughborough College, Brooksby College, Homefield College… basically a lot of areas with the word ‘College’ at the end… or ‘Academy’ in two cases.

Our first port of call was the main reason we were here; ensuring the provision of students with autism going into Key Stage 5, and begging the question as to what these colleges may need in order to provide said provisions. Of course, all of us well versed in autism knew that the solution to the problem was going to require a bit more than a really thick safety net…not that that it wouldn’t hurt to have one.

In a lot of cases, the biggest problem was the lack of longevity to the support offered. Some diagnosed autistics are given adequate support in school, helping with socially adjusting, surviving GCSEs etc, and then once you finish secondary school, you have to bid farewell to that support as they release you into the wild.

OK, maybe leaving the support isn’t quite THAT dramatic, but the same principle still applies. And I know from personal experience.

When I made the transition from school to college, I didn’t have the same type of support in college as I did in school. I had to, wait for it… GO TO MY DOCTOR TO GET A LETTER CONFIRMING I STILL HAD ASPERGER’S SYNDROME.

The impertinence of such a request baffles me to this day. Every autistic knows you don’t have an ‘off-switch’ for autism. When you get your diagnosis, it doesn’t come with a sell-by date. Of course, in the years, at least no one has asked me if I have a receipt for my autism… yet.

But I digress, back in the real world – or something closely resembling the real world – we talked about how there is no lifelong plan for these young people and very little to help prepare them for the long-term side of life. Kevin outlined a vision that would allow for a support structure for 16+ with some consistency helping to get them ready to take that journey we’ve come to call LIFE.

We proceeded to love over a series of anonymous case studies, focusing on teenagers with diagnosed hidden conditions – primarily autism – taking a look at their behaviours and identifying what kind of support they may need. It was interesting putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It proved that having the same diagnosis does not necessarily mean you can relate to every issue that person has – for those who assume autistics share a hive mind(!).

Figuratively knocking our heads together – and somehow still getting a headache in the process – we discussed methods such as a specially-prepared room designed to cater to the student’s needs during an anxiety episode, warning signs for students prone to self-harming or volatile behavior, engaging the services of a Speech and Language Therapist (I’ll never think of salt the same way ever again), and even how to bring in other students as part of that support!

Brilliant suggestions were flying everywhere on account of brilliant people. It wasn’t about bringing people round to our line of thought. The message could be summed up as, “This is the problem, and this is what we can do to solve it.” Made me wish I’d known these people back when I was in further education. If we had more than just those two hours, I think we would have come up with a list of solutions as long as a Stephen King novel… only without the horror and lifelong trauma.

Kevin maintained that we needed to gain support for 3 pathways; Independent Living, Employability and Supported Internship. We need to ensure that autistic teenagers can attain support for these pathways. For some people, finding the right support is like wading through a thick fog; you never really know what’s out there.

Unfortunately, despite the enthusiasm in the room, we were all halted by the all-too common riddle; how to raise awareness on a mass scale?

All of us do as much as we can to raise awareness in our own areas, and it’s enough to get the public’s ears burning – don’t worry, we’ve not resorted to flamethrowers – but it is not enough to enforce change on a national scale.

To help boost the awareness of the supporters, Kevin spoke of various training sessions which would serve as an introduction to autism for the uninformed. These sessions are due to take place in the near future – ideally 2017, I’ve not got the patience to wait for 2020.

After a while, the idea of a conference was floated around, inviting employers and those with like-minded concerns to attend and ascertain some strategies alongside parents, carers, teachers and, obviously, autistic people. Such a conference would definitely have the widespread interest we are looking for and we can link to a lot of businesses, paving the way for an integrated support network.

Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day – it was actually built in 1,009,491 days for anyone interested – so, whether we can get this thing off the ground and up in the air is another story.

But coming away from that meeting, Emma and myself were pleased with this meeting of minds, many were well-versed in the world of autism and the strategies are already there. Like the construction of a building, we have the blueprints, now we just need to find the tools and people who can build it up. We all share a similar vision and am hoping that we can meet again to discuss future plans. We’ve planted the seed, now we just have to wait for it to grow into a magnificent tree.


Riddle for the Ages: If SALT stands for Speech and Language Therapist, does PEPPER have an equally relevant acronym?


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