Preparing for Adulthood, SEND

Change my story: ‘Facing the abyss’

By Cole Andrew

Last month, I was privileged to meet and listen to ‘the story’ of young people’s journey towards adult life from two key perspectives; parents and the young people themselves.  One story was told by parents of young people with learning difficulties and the other by the young people themselves.  This was part of a research project I am involved in.

As a I reflect on my experience as a Head teacher in Special Education, I think particularly about the shared story that most special schools have; namely a focus on developing life skills in readiness for adult life.  Over the years, as a team, we did a lot for the young people in my care.  I’m now at a place, where I want to influence the story beyond the day the young person leaves the secure setting of the school and support the increasing number of youngsters with learning difficulties that are being educated at home (80% increase in home schooling in the last 5 years).

The stories I heard recently have given me a deeper experience of what I felt I knew.  Three key messages resonated with me:

  • Parents / carers have hopes and dreams for their children but struggle to feel truly part of the ‘route mapping’ or even understand what the adult life opportunities might look like.
  • All young people have a story to tell about their education; their views on this can provide invaluable incite to shaping the foci for their education.
  • Many young people and parents struggle to see what lies beyond the day they leave the education system (home or school based).

Hopes and Dreams

Whilst listening to the parents and carers of these youngsters, I was overwhelmed with a sense that everyone shared a similar story. Their initial hopes and dreams for their child had been shattered, when their child was first diagnosed with learning difficulties.  They talked about their shared experience of loss and the bereavement process they had to go through on the way.  As a foster carer and a parent of young people with autism, I could empathise.  I recounted the story analogy ‘Welcome to Holland’ written by a parent of a child with Downs Syndrome.  Our initial expectations may not be met, but we can still find ways for young people to live fulfilling lives as adults.  The overwhelming feeling in the room was the sense of anxiety about the inability to see the opportunities for their children in adult life; a strong sense of ‘facing an abyss.’  What will they do? Where will they live? How will they live? Who will support them when I’m no longer here?

Young People’s Story

The reality of co-production has yet to be realised.  Maybe we were ambitious in our vision or possibly naïve.  However, the bottom line is, there is so much to gain by giving young people and families the space ‘to tell their story’.  A parent (@StarlightMckenz on Twitter) shared her thoughts last December via this blog.

How can the story and journey of these young people be better told?  In the project I am now part of we are particularly interested in hearing/telling the story from the young person’s perspective.  I certainly do not want to suggest I can ‘fix’ the issues raised here single handed.  I simply ask the question; how can we help these amazing young people and their supporters to see a clearer picture beyond the ‘abyss’?  The story needs to have at least a sketched outline for the later chapters.  How can we better ‘co-produce’ the journey and experience of the story for these youngsters?

Beyond the abyss … access to the workforce.

One young man’s story was particularly compelling for me.  He has significant physical impairments requiring full time care and support.  Cognitively, he’s sharp as a razor, putting my aging brain capacity to shame!  His story centred around a heartfelt desire to be valued and give value into the community he lives.  He sustained placement in mainstream education, achieved GCSE outcomes and went to college.  Then he faced ‘the abyss.’  No career opportunities opened, due to complexity of the benefits system, support he needed to live independent life and due to the inaccessibility of the workforce arena.  Year by year his demeaner began to lose its shine, he would smile less and spend long periods of time feeling depressed and frustrated.

The turning point in this young man’s story was meaningful work, even though he is not paid.  This is another issue for debate.  However, his whole demeanor and self esteem has grown exponentially by securing week by week, year by year meaningful and valued contribution in the work place.

#TeamADL are hearing similar stories to this, all too frequently.  In response to this, we are seeking to find tools and opportunities to support and develop young people.  One aspect of our work this year is to develop tools to help them overcome some of the barriers to accessing the workforce community.

Together with Anita Devi, and other collaboration partners, we are pleased to announce our #SENDCareers Event on March 9th, 2019 for young people (16-25 years) and their families /carers.  We will release more information about the day and a sign-up link in the new year.  The event will be held at the Network Rail HQ in Milton Keynes.  We are really excited about this.  This is not an event, where young people are given lots of information, to go away and digest.  Our model is different – it’s about listening and dreaming BIG … together.  It’s about showing young people what’s possible.  It’s about rekindling the hopes and dreams of parents and carers.  The event is FREE to attend.

On the day, we will also be sharing a new tool to help young people take up a vocation and support them through workplace induction and further development into promotion.  It is a tried and tested technology and we will be sharing case studies of how it has transformed the lives of young people with learning disabilities in the work place.

So, for now – save the date … and watch this space! (Details below)

Further reading:

Capturing the Voices of Children in the Education Health and Care Plans: Are We There Yet?

About Cole Andrew:

As a member of #TeamADL, Cole leads on the SEND Careers Project.  His experience as a Special School Headteacher and work across more than three local authorities helps him coach new aspiring special school heads, as well as those more experienced.  Cole also has a keen interest in training Teaching & Transport Assistants.  As a parent of a child with Autism and a foster carer, Cole has a 360 insight into the system.  To find out more visit:

Save the date 9th March 2019