Leaving school is the beginning of a journey, not the end. Here’s what practitioners and policymakers need to take on board if young people with conditions like Autism, ADHD or Tourette’s Syndrome are to get the same life chances as their peers.
Fifty young people with one or more of these conditions, and/or their family members, took part in research for the Life on the Edge of the Cliff project along with professionals and practitioners across health, education and social services. Here is a summary of the report’s findings.
- This is a pivotal time in the lives of young people. Wrong decisions in the years after school can be difficult, and costly, to undo. Some never get back on track, with long term impact on their earning potential, health, and ability to live independently or with greatly reduced support.
- Structured activities, therapeutic intervention and a clearly defined pathway are key to maintaining momentum and motivation after leaving school.
- There is an urgent need for more post school options that allow time to develop social and life skills.
- Post school pathways need to be clearer, especially for those who are not ready at the time of leaving school to progress to further education or employment. Many young people in this group will require substantial additional support to explore their options and parents, support workers or others may need to be involved in these discussions.
- Planning should be based on a holistic assessment of a young person’s capacities, abilities and potential as well as their academic achievements, personal interests and goals. There is an urgent need to identify who is responsible for coordinating planning and support beyond school.
- A culture of aspiration and achievement is essential in maintaining motivation and building confidence.
- Diagnosis is only a partial indicator of what support may be necessary. A diagnosis does not provide a full picture of challenges that exist or how they impact on the individual. Diagnoses can be incorrect, incomplete, or fail to reflect the full picture (such as the presence and impact of additional disorders).
- Developing the ability to live independently, or with greatly reduced support, should be an explicit aim. This requires identifying barriers specific to the individual and planning a systematic approach to addressing these.
- Key skills are resilience, self confidence, ability to work with others, flexibility and problem solving: support should focus on developing these alongside practical skills needed for independent living.
- Therapeutic input is hugely important. The availability of psychoeducation, counselling and therapy can make a difference to outcomes.
- Services and support have to be accessible, not just available. This requires a proactive approach to engaging with young people with these conditions and maintaining contact. The inability of some young people with Asperger’s Syndrome to ask for help, for example, can be a significant barrier to accessing existing services. Support has to be clearly signposted and a flexible approach to communicating is essential: face to face, telephone/text or email/online depending on the individual.
- An “early intervention” approach to addressing problems and difficulties can make a big difference to achieving a positive outcome. Services have to be more clearly signposted with better pathways.
- It is important to be realistic. This includes managing expectations and being realistic about the time investment needed both for planning and support.
- There is a need to work closely with families, particularly in the early years of the transition process. This is especially so if services are depending on families to play a key role in providing practical, financial or emotional support. Family circumstances and capacities must be taken into account.
- The right to complete educational entitlement at a later date is of enormous benefit for young people who miss school as a result of physical or mental health conditions.
- Clear pathways back into services (including education and healthcare) and support systems are important. Because these conditions are lifelong, requirements can be expected to fluctuate over time according to changing circumstances: it is important to be able to access appropriate services to develop new strategies if needed. For adults in particular, there needs to be a clear and obvious access point.
- Develop strategies that promote integration. This includes steps to build tolerance among the wider community, and to build the capacity of young people to integrate more successfully.
- Skills development among professionals and practitioners is urgently needed. This includes improving awareness; developing a team mentality with other disciplines and family members; and increasing numbers of specialists who work with young people with organisational and communication difficulties.
- Investment in communication is essential and cost effective in raising awareness, sharing information, increasing participation/engagement, and supporting self help strategies and peer support networks.
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