The story of one young man for whom Asperger’s has been no barrier to fulfilling his dream
Young people with learning disabilities can break through and achieve their goals, despite the fact that the odds often seem to be stacked against them. Indeed, the aspirations of independent living and paid employment can become realities for many of these young people, if they receive the right help and support.
Matthew Coulbeck (pictured), aged twenty, has faced the challenges of living with Asperger’s syndrome. He had always wanted to get a job and live independently but, like many in his situation, he had found that there were limited opportunities and support for people with learning disabilities. He had also experienced the all too common misconception that people with learning difficulties may not have the capabilities or skills to look after themselves, let alone to gain employment.
“I couldn’t always talk to people and found it difficult to be around them. I was always very anxious” said Matthew. In spite of these problems, Matthew has secured a job in catering, which he loves. “I knew I wanted to work in catering. After going on a catering course and trying out different work experience placements the college helped me to find what I want to do and I feel confident”.
Matthew had accessed the one year Transition Programme at Linkage College in Grimsby, a specialist college for people with learning difficulties. When he first moved to the college, it was a very daunting experience. Matthew had originally attended a mainstream college where he enrolled on a catering course. However, he felt that he was not given the specialist support he needed to enable him to progress. Although he completed the first term at the mainstream college, the situation there later resulted in him remaining at home on a daily basis, with his confidence and self-esteem at a real low. Matthew moved to the specialist college in September 2008 to try to overcome these difficulties. With the right support, he hoped to gain qualifications and to pursue his chosen career in catering. This was a real challenge for him; he knew the pathway he wanted to pursue would be difficult, because his lack of confidence meant that he would get very anxious about everyday situations.
The specialist program has been able to support Matthew and provide him with the necessary skills and qualifications needed to carve out his ambition. Working with Matthew, the college agreed a timetable which was personalised to his needs and which included additional sessions in Skills for Life and ICT, to help raise attainment levels in these areas. He also had personal tutorials with his programme manager in which Matthew could discuss any anxieties that he may have had and work on strategies to enable him to cope better in similar situations.
Matthew’s confidence grew very quickly and he had a one hundred percent attendance record. “I loved going to college and I felt more and more confident because of the support I received,” said Matthew. He was very reliable and conscientious. By the end of the year, Matthew successfully completed a NVQ 2 catering qualification in professional cooking, in addition to one in computer literacy and information technology and a Level 1 in adult numeracy.
When a vacancy arose for paid employment within a professional kitchen environment, Matthew duly applied for the post. He felt prepared and in a position to embark on his chosen career. “I am very happy that I am doing a real job. I filled out the application form and there were a lot of people being interviewed. I am really pleased to say that I got the job. I think I did well in my interview as I had built up a lot of experience.”
Matthew was successful in gaining the position in September 2009 and is currently enjoying his role, which involves everything from cooking to cleaning the catering equipment. When asked what advice he would give to others wanting to pursue their goals, he said “My advice would be to try and get qualifications, and I would also tell them about my experience to encourage them.”
Matthew also developed friendships whilst at college, and he has stayed in touch with some of his new friends since leaving college. Matthew’s parents are extremely happy with his progress and report that he now goes out regularly with friends, loves his work, cooks at home and even stayed at home alone whilst they took a holiday. Matthew said, “I currently live at home but I am thinking of moving out in the future, as I feel I am now confident enough”.
Matthew has already taken further strides towards greater independence. Deciding that he didn’t want to rely on his parents to provide him with a lift all the time, he has successfully learnt to drive. “I needed to get to work and knew I needed to find a way of getting there without asking my parents for a lift all the time”, he said. “So I decided to learn to drive. I enjoy driving and take my friends out in my car too. Some of them are learning to drive now too.”
The opportunity to join the Transition Programme at the specialist college has transformed Matthew’s life. From a position in which he was NEET (not in education, employment or training), he has become a successful learner and, as a result of that, has entered into permanent employment. Matthew is now, quite understandably, very proud of his achievements and very positive about his future.
Naj Modak is Media Relations and Communications Manager at Linkage College:
Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 45: March/April 2010.