Our students arrive each with their individual personality, life experience and different cognitive and physical abilities. From day one, staff work with the young person to enable them to make the best transition into adulthood.
Living and learning around other young people with disabilities is the foundation of a happy college life for many students. Research, based on the United Nations’ human rights and disability treaty*, found that ‘… all children can learn regardless of the presence and/or severity of disability. All children can learn depending on the instructional approach and support that is available. Children with disabilities need to participate meaningfully with others…’.
Morgan is in her fourth year at Nash; she lives with cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome, with multiple profound disabilities and non-verbal communication. Her mum Lorraine describes her as ‘an incredibly bright, happy, bouncy girl who laughs all the time. She’s confident, has a wicked sense of humour and loves learning.’
Lorraine noticed how important this social stimulus was to Morgan, when college life changed last year. ‘I hadn’t realised quite how much lockdown had affected Morgan’s mental health, because she’s never miserable. But a couple of days after she went back [to college on-site], it was like someone switched on a light in her! It was just pure joy – she was singing all the time, singing about her friends. Her eyes were sparkling again.’
Morgan’s peer Luke, who finished at Nash in the summer, prefers to ‘keep himself to himself’ and can find mixing hard, as his mum Camilla describes, but forming friendships at Nash was important to him too.
Camilla finds that Luke, who has limited verbal communication, will now refer back to friends he has made, even though he hadn’t expressed this to Camilla at the time. ‘I was so pleased to hear him say he wanted to see his friends,’ she says.
‘The thing we’ve noticed the most since Morgan has been at Nash is that she’s always engaged,’ says Lorraine. ‘She was more timid at previous schools.’ This has been fundamental to Morgan flourishing at Nash, Lorraine feels. ‘It’s a confidence thing – before she wouldn’t always engage with her peers and only at a distance. Now she wants to do activities with friends and be around them more.’
Students spend time together in the classroom and in learning life-skills, depending on their ability and aptitude. Whilst Luke loves to use a computer, he didn’t engage easily with classroom learning. But gaining practical skills was something he found rewarding. ‘Luke was given a work placement in the college cafeteria, laying out cutlery, cleaning tables and dealing with recycling,’ says Camilla. ‘He loves routine and this really appealed to him. Plus he transferred these skills to home and started doing this for family meals. He was pleased when we thanked and praised him and it had a good effect on our family relationships.’
Morgan’s learning pathway made the most of her abilities and preferences, says mum Lorraine: ‘She loves learning new things and needs that interaction – then she thrives. She loves books, flash cards and can sign the alphabet, use Makaton and loves music and dancing. Morgan also loves to learn skills like loading the washing machine, switching it on, drying up – everyday things.’
Now Luke and Morgan, both in their early twenties, are building on what they’ve gained from their Livability education to approach the next stage in their life.
Nash’s transitions team worked with both families, offering expertise and support at what can be a very stressful time for families. Luke now has a one-day-per-week placement with a local disability organisation. Nash supported him through the transition over a six-week period, introducing him to new people, new travel plans and a new environment.
Camilla continues to seek more support for Luke during the week, applying for Croydon council services. ‘To be honest, I found it stressful and it still is,’ she says. ‘But Nash were really good in helping to set it up and it’s been really smooth. It’s definitely made a difference for our family.’
Morgan will stay on at Nash for an extra year, because of time lost during the pandemic. She will spend three days a week at college and two at Livability’s Next Steps day programme. ‘The transitions team at Nash have been fantastic with Morgan’s move to Next Steps,’ says Lorraine. ‘She’s been with her teacher Jenny to her first sessions. They’ve already done work with her on handling and personal care, because Morgan has a dislocated hip, so it’s important to get this right. Next Steps will be great for interaction with her peers, keeping her brain going and interacting with other young adults.’
Seeing Morgan develop and enjoy life is particularly poignant for her family, says Lorraine: ‘In 2016, Morgan was in intensive care for five months and most of the consultants told us she wouldn’t be coming home. But she proved them wrong and she’s fought really, really hard to get back to how she used to be. And we fight for her, you know, because she’s such a wonderful young person and we want her to have the best life. So for us, to see her going off every day to something that she absolutely loves and she’s learning, she’s growing and she’s so happy. It just means everything to us.’