LOOK MUM AND DAD - NO STABILISERS!
Growing up is hard to do but even more so when you throw in a learning disability or some challenging needs. Add into the mix the challenges of transitioning from Child to Adult services and you have the potential for a difficult time because the handover is often far from smooth.
Here is an account from Jessie, a member of our Frontier team, about a day she spent with two teenagers with Autism and Aspergers that depicts how they find interaction and communication particularly difficult and quite often need support to cope with activities that other teens might take in their stride.
"I started the day by collecting Anthony. On the journey to Grace’s we have a short, very limited conversation. Mostly led by me asking questions that he answers with one worded mumbles.
We arrive to pick Grace up. I prompt her to say “hello” to Anthony, as she does not seem to have acknowledged his presence. Instead, she gets onto the trampoline, leaving Anthony with two barking dogs. He stands back, looking uneasy, so I reassure him that the dogs are just after attention and that he can tell them off and then stroke them. This seems to calm him down. I try to encourage Grace to invite Anthony to play on the trampoline too. He is very hesitant to go on and instead puts the dogs on.
We then head off for lunch and they both play with their phones, quietly. I try to initiate conversation by encouraging Grace to ask Anthony about school:
Grace: “Do you like school, Anthony?”
Both: [Back to playing with their phones.]
Suddenly Anthony exclaims, “Liza on YouTube!” They both begin to talk about YouTube and all the things they love to watch on there. I can’t get a word in edgeways!
In the restaurant they both struggle with choosing what to eat. Grace finds there is too much choice. Anthony simply wants “pizza” but pushes for me to choose his toppings. After a conversationally limited meal, not helped by the free Wifi on offer, I try to get them to choose an activity for the afternoon. No suggestions. So I decide that we’ll opt for indoor golf.
Grace and Anthony’s interaction seems to improve as time goes on. They enjoy competing against each other, despite their very different approaches – Anthony tests the rules but Grace is right there to tell him off if she thinks he is deviating too much.
Anthony tells me about his friends. He says that all of his friends are girls, because “the boys like football” and he prefers “animals and Star Wars”. Grace explains that all of her friends are boys, “but not boyfriends”. She tells me, “I don’t want a boyfriend as I love me and don’t want to cheat on myself”."
Interaction between two teenagers is hard at the best of times. But people with Autism and Aspergers find it hard to trust, difficult to read nuance and are not sure how to approach new people. All of which means they struggle to make friends and form relationships. Grace hated school up until about age 13, when she met her first true friend. Anthony is still struggling to find a ‘real friend’, meaning that he doesn’t enjoy his time at school.
Rob Anscomb-Gates, CEO of Frontier, said: “This anecdote is a good illustration of why parents of teens with learning disabilities or additional needs should give early thought what their child’s life will look like when they leave education. What will they do, what support will they need and where will they live? Good planning is key in ensuring the best support and treatment during the transition and throughout their adult life.
“Making the leap from the safe environment that they’ve known throughout childhood into a new, potentially more complex, adult environment can be rather like whipping the stabilisers off a bike for the first time – the potential for fun and freedom is right there but the prospect is terrifying! But we can help manage that fear and I’m happy to have a chat with any parents in need of reassurance about transition; as well as offer guidance for the options surrounding independent supported living.”