My son started college in September. It isn’t going as well as we had hoped. Poor communication and inconsistent support has led to him dropping out. Our troubles began in the summer when it became clear that college weren’t really interested in listening to us. We tried our best and met with various people in the hope of getting more information of how they’d support him but it was hard going. Except for meeting our son in school, nothing else happened to help him prepare for the move to college. Neither was anything said about how he was going to be supported in class. We were totally in the dark.
It worried me because I know from experience that our son can’t cope with change and that he would need help to settle into college particular after the long summer holidays. Fortunately my son seemed keen to go and buoyed by his enthusiasm I was hopeful that a fresh start out of school would see a change in him. I kept hearing about the success stories of young autistic people who did much better once they left school. I was hoping my son would be one of them but alas after a few days at college things started to fall apart.
The interview process was difficult. Left unsupported (the support tutor had priorities elsewhere) he came out stressed and confused about what was said. Fortunately I managed to reassure him enough for him to continue on to the induction programme, a week long festival of events which included assessments, tours and speeches. My son was expected to join along with everyone else. However it was all too much and he soon became too exhausted and anxious to continue. He stopped attending.
I felt incredibly infuriated with the whole thing. The college had had many an opportunity to discuss with us our son’s needs. They also had a copy of his learning difficulty assessment which sets out his special educational needs but alas it seems that they weren’t interested in us or his LDA. I couldn’t help but think that much of my son’s distress could have been avoided by better communication with us, better planning and of course better understanding of the autism spectrum.
Leaving the politics of SEN to the side (for the time being anyhow) I managed to make contact with a support tutor (we’ll call him Mr A). This time I told him specifically about my son’s condition and what help he needed. It seemed to me that relying on staff reading his learning difficulty assessment was not going to work and that I would have to tell them instead. I was nervous of doing this as during previous encounters with teaching staff in school there was an attitude that as a mother I shouldn’t know more than them and certainly I shouldn’t be advising them what works for my child. One horrible memory is of providing evidence to my daughter’s school about why she struggled in PE (aspergers and hypermobility) and being humiliated by the SENCO as a result. I didn’t want a repeat of this but on the other hand I needed to get through to college staff the complexity of my son’s condition. Fortunately the support tutor was a friendly and knowledgeable guy who listened to me and acted upon my suggestions. I was taken back to be honest. For the first time in my son’s life someone took an interest in him.
Needless to say it worked. My son settled into class and for the next few weeks did well that is until half term when the change in routine threw him of course. It’s horrible for him and us when he becomes unwell like this but experience has told us that with plenty of rest and gentle encouragement he can (and often does) find the courage to go back. The problem I’ve had is dealing with the college whilst looking after my son. Whilst Mr A is great the pressure from others (notably the support team) to get my son back was horrendous; there was no understanding of my son’s condition. I found it perplexing; didn’t staff communicate? Instead we were subjected to regular calls demanding to know where he was. At one stage they even suggested that his absence was a child protection issue. I was raging at this point. This wasn’t a child protection issue but rather an issue of inclusion in that poor support had led to my son becoming too unwell to continue his studies.
Nevertheless I made contact with Mr A again who informed the relevant people of my son’s difficulties. The telephone calls stopped and I was able to make progress with my son to such a degree that he has now made his first tentative steps back into college. However I can’t help but think that much of this could have been avoided if the staff had listened to us and provided the relevant support in the first place. I believe they call it co-production.