Beechwood College - Mathew's Journey

From a young age Matthew had Additional Learning Needs but he was not officially diagnosed with Autism until the age of 8. The diagnosis helped to explain his difficulties with social communication and social interaction as he didn’t develop language skills until the age of 7 and often appeared shy and withdrawn to people outside of the family. Matthew has however always had a passion for creativity and his strengths lie in artistic activities such as drawing, painting and model making which he would engage in for hours at a time.

Matthew’s school years were particularly difficult and as a result he was moved from schools and specialist units more than 5 times with little success. The schools struggled to engage Matthew within their settings and his parents were repeatedly told that the schools were not the right place for Matthew as he found it difficult to conform to the boundaries of a set curriculum. Unfortunately an alternative and more suitable provision was never found or even discussed with his family and Matthew continued to be excluded from many activities, events and community-based trips. Terms such as ‘naughty’ and ‘agressive’ were often used by some professionals, while in reality Matthew was a young boy with autism who would come home from school each day with a little more sadness and having become a little more lost.

When Matthew reached his teens an incident at school meant that he was permanently excluded and his family were forced to pursue home-schooling. He only received a couple of hours direct tutoring a day and missed out on vital opportunities to socialise and make friends. At 16 it was then decided that Matthew could attend a local college. However poor communication between the various departments involved in Matthew’s education and the lack of any transition meant that there was little hope for success and the placement broke down before it had begun. Matthew and his family remained lost.

It was then the family learned of Beechwood College, a specialist College in South Wales that specifically supports young people with a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Condition. Matthew’s family had reservations as the College was out of their home county and Matthew would have to travel in a taxi on a daily basis, however everything else had failed previously so they took a leap of faith. After a number of visits, Matthew decided that he wanted to attend Beechwood College and for the first time in his life he was able to be included in decisions that effected his education. Six months passed following his referral and request for funding and to the delight of everyone involved, Matthew was given a start date of February 2015.

Matthew is currently thriving and fast becoming a confident and sociable young man. He is in a much better place academically, socially and emotionally and enjoys his days in College following a programme of study that has allowed him to focus on subject areas that he enjoys. He now goes home each day happy and is looking forward to what the future may hold.

Due to Matthew’s educational history a comprehensive and carefully planning transition was essential to ensure his successful placement. Following further visits with his family, Matthew began to attend college for three days a week. Initially he was very nervous and withdrawn; he refused to give eye contact or verbally communicate but instead he would use gestures and facial expressions to make his needs known. Over several weeks his anxiety began to subside and Matthew began to engage with the staff and his peers. The number of days he attended in the week was increased until soon he was once again in full-time education for the first time in over 5 years.

There were days that Matthew’s mood dipped and he would withdraw, however with the support of his family and using his love of art as a way to connect with Matthew and for Matthew to connect with the world around him, these times were short lived. Structure, visual systems and creative activities were used throughout his day to ensure that he remained happy and engaged, allowing him to achieve more in his less favoured subjects. The curriculum was tailored to meet his needs and provide him with the right opportunities to develop. He picked a number of creative subjects that included art, drama, eco-centre and woodwork, which supported his accredited Personal and Social Development core curriculum subjects. Furthermore, through focused group-based and individual Speech and Language Therapy sessions Matthew has begun to understand and express his emotions much more clearly. He has also expressed an interest in continuing with is love for art in the future and will be undertaking a work experience placement as an art technician within the College Art Department which just 2 years ago would have been inconceivable.

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