Livability provides special education for students with disabilities, at Victoria School in Poole, and Nash FE College in Bromley. Both centres offer a broad curriculum, which is tailored to each student’s needs and goals. Many of the young people educated by Livability are autistic, supported by a highly skilled staff team. Director of Education Adele Audin explains what education looks like for students at Livability Nash FE College.
We have 58 students on our role and a very large percentage of those young people might display characteristics of ASD [Autistic Spectrum Disorder]. However, our young people have got such a wide range of complex conditions that often autism isn’t a separate diagnosis. We may have a young person who displays some symptoms of ASD in their profile but not all of them, so you wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify them as autistic. Actually, I avoid labelling as often people with ASD don’t want to identify with having ASD themselves anyway, even when they are.
All autistic people and those with any autistic tendencies are different, so you cannot apply a consistent approach across the whole cohort. What you have to do is provide a very personalised provision. For example, we wouldn’t have a class all doing art on a Monday, say. We might have five people in a class doing artistic activities but one might be learning animation because they’re interested in a career in animation or film-making. Somebody else might be doing therapeutic art, because they have a different ‘personalised learning intention’ or PLI, which we set up for each student.
Personalising learning requires an in-depth understanding of that young person at a personal level and at an educational needs level, in terms of who and where they are and what they want to achieve. Our understanding of their goals is really important for their personalised provision.
We aim to get as much understanding of our young person as we possibly can and all the core skills they need for adult life. We’re preparing our young person for their future – the future they want, rather than the future that society, and maybe even sometimes their parents, think they should have. It might not feel particularly special teaching someone how to do the ironing but actually it enables them to have independence.
By addressing some of the skills that a neurotypical person might pick up normally, we are able to prepare that person with disabilities for a great degree of independence. And that’s important because people with disabilities including ASD face so many difficulties in their lives. When they leave school at 18, the support isn’t there, they often take longer to transition into adult life and they can feel as if they’ve been taken to a cliff and pushed off, without their support systems. So if you stop education suddenly, there’s nowhere for them to go.
All our young people make progress and have successes. Successes can look tiny; I’ve just watched a young man pour a glass of milk when he couldn’t even hold the jug or the cup six months ago. It might take six months to achieve that but in other cases, it can be really fast. We’ve got young people who’ve learned that running up to hug everybody they ever meet is actually just not the right thing to do for their own safety. And then there was one young man who hated everything to do with education here when he came and by the time he went, people couldn’t tell if he was a member of staff or not. Success is very, very personalised and everyone who comes here leaves with a narrative about their successes. And those successes are celebrated!
The rewards are as special as the successes our young people achieve, because those relationships with young people with ASD are very difficult to build. We work with a hugely skilled staff team, including a team of therapists – occupational therapists, speech therapists and physios – working together to develop students’ communication strategies is something that’s incredibly important. Again, it’s very personalised and very tailored. I think staff benefit from students’ successes as much as the young people themselves.