Melanie Whitfield is Head Teacher at Brookways School, a specialist provision supporting children and young people living with an autism spectrum condition. Here she tells us the story of Andrew whom she met while working as Head of the ARC autism specialist provision at sister school Leaways.
“Andrew is of above average intelligence but because of his autism and the social demands of a mainstream school, he was struggling. He became physically isolated. His self-esteem hit rock bottom. Eventually he was excluded and he remained out of school, and rarely left his house, for more than two years.
“This young man had utterly switched off from school. He had no coping strategies, his development was severely arrested and he was very frightened of the outside world. School was a place of terror for him.
“Leaways were asked what we could do to support Andrew back into school, into learning. We knew it would have to be a low arousal environment and that it mustn’t look like a school. There would need to be sound proofing too. In effect, the ARC setting in Leaways was set up for Andrew.”
“We started by visiting him at home, myself and a teaching assistant. We worked directly with Andrew at home to build a relationship with him and his family – we wanted him to look forward to seeing us and we wanted to learn all we could about him and understand him more.
“What we learned was vital in developing plans for Andrew and engaging with him. He loves science fiction – films and TV – so we took corresponding activity books. He was able to look at the book and learn.”
Back to School
“When ARC opened we made his target to come along and spend time there. He came and sat down with one of his activity books. The initial plan was for him to spend around two weeks being very gradually introduced to the school environment again but Andrew had plans of his own.
“On day 3 he asked the teacher if he could come full time, which he does. He is hungry to learn and does everything. The progress he has made is just phenomenal.
“He has a full-time timetable, he is healthy, happy and his smile is just a beam. He has done his Foundation Studies exams, he’s working towards GCSEs and we have had conversations about college and university, he is a young man with ambition. We are confident he will get top grades.
“The progress has just been beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. He has 100% attendance and he has made friends. He is able to articulate feelings such as jealousy.”
First Residential Trip
“Probably most significantly for Andrew, given his starting point, was a residential trip to Kingswood. That was the first time he had ever been away from home and he did extremely well.
“Andrew gets more confident day by day. It’s difficult to believe it’s the same child. He has just continued to do so well. All of the children at school look up to him. He knows he is a role model and takes that really seriously.”