Give me a chance

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A student with autism, explains how the right specialist support helped turn his life around

I’m 24 and a higher education student in music production at the College where I have been studying since I was 16. And, by the way, I am autistic: I have Asperger’s syndrome.

I faced a lot of barriers in education. Before I started at college, I was extremely shy and reserved and I did not have many friends. Being here has given me confidence and social skills. I am able to speak to many people now, including unfamiliar adults, and I was honoured recently to speak at the House of Commons at the launch of an autism campaign.

I no longer require help with academic work but do need support with the social side, so college has become like my second home.

I need more time to study compared to my peer group. I don’t believe this reflects on my ability but it shows that the present education system leaves little room for those who, though they may have great strength in other areas, need more time to develop some learning skills. I feel that, in order to overcome this, it is vital that educators understand the complexities of autism so that they can accommodate autistic students’ needs within the education system from the time of their diagnosis. In the past, I have sometimes faced difficulties as some teachers either misunderstood me or held low expectations of my abilities. Other students can also make these assumptions. I believe this lack of understanding needs to be addressed and that all professionals working in education should be trained in inclusive learning opportunities.

When people without autism go into further education, they have to choose between so many different options and courses. For somebody with autism, all these facts and figures can feel overwhelming and it can be difficult to understand how it relates to you at all. I’ve been lucky to have a trusted person to help me decipher information and make it simple to choose. This is vital for autistic people.

At College, there is a specialist team that works with students on the autistic spectrum. They are trained to understand autism and how it impacts on people. Their support has changed my life and helped me get to where I am today. They treated me as an individual and tailored my studies to suit my exact needs.

There is a lot that could be done to help improve the lives of people with autism. For example, more specialist support should be available for autistic people in education and the community. I’d like to see specialist support in junior and secondary schools as well as in colleges and universities.

But it is not only within education that we need support. Throughout our lives, we will require help with legal, financial and social issues. It would also be a great help to spread knowledge about autism to as many people as possible, so others can understand how complex our lives can be. Autism impacts differently on each person and we all have differing needs.

It is vital that professionals who want to work with people on the autistic spectrum are trained and experienced. I have a support worker at College who completely understands my needs, but while my university music professor is a great practical teacher, he does not have an understanding of autism or how to create tasks, assignments or an environment that makes learning accessible for people like me.

If more people understood autism, it would make a lot of our lives easier; we have a lot to offer society if society gives us the opportunity.

Further information

Steven Philp is a student at Weston College:
www.weston.ac.uk

Steven Philp
Author: Steven Philp

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