Don’t ignore special needs

Specialist provision for the one in five children with special
education needs is a problem that can intensify when they reach 16.
This is because of a lack of tailored holistic and educational
facilities for young adults and the lack of appropriate
legislation. The combination can have devastating consequences.

Colleges that offer special education needs (SEN) care for
people with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) are in the minority.
While every college should have an SEN department, some people
struggle to be accepted because Asperger’s syndrome is not
officially recognised as a learning difficulty. These colleges tend
to focus on less able students, ignoring academically bright
students with Asperger’s. There are a few specialist colleges but
these tend to cover all aspects of SEN and are not suited to people
with Asperger’s.

One of the main problems with colleges is their culture. Many
students with ASD will have come from small secondary or special
schools where they have experienced a caring and holistic approach
and individual care. This ends when they move into further
education as colleges are no longer responsible for meeting these

The culture is one of “you are now entering the world of work
and adulthood, so you should take responsibility for your own
learning and organisation”. Colleges are often large, and students
are expected to organise themselves, move to different lectures,
concentrate on subjects for a long period of time, and socialise at
break times.

Young people with Asperger’s require small holistic colleges
that allow them the breadth of curriculum and opportunities to
external accreditation, combined with support and care in a
non-threatening environment.
While a minority of people with ASD are able to attend college,
what happens to the others who leave either mainstream or
specialist schools without the academic or life skills required to
attend college, get a job or live independently?

The reason for the lack of further education opportunities is
that the medical understanding of Asperger’s syndrome and
consequently services has only developed recently.

While autism and ASD were both recognised in the 1940s when Hans
Asperger wrote his paper on the condition in German, it wasn’t
translated into English until the late 1980s. Asperger’s syndrome
only entered the diagnostic manuals in 1994, which delayed research
and understanding of it. This led to poor understanding of the
condition and thousands of children suffering because they were not
correctly diagnosed.

As four in 10 GPs do not have enough information to make an
informed assessment, awareness of autism among primary health
professionals continues to cause a barrier to diagnosis.(1)

While parents are relieved to receive the correct diagnosis for
their children, this is only one of the many hurdles they will need
to overcome. Few parents of young people with ASD know what to
expect as their child grows older. Most dread the onset of
adolescence, fearing that it is likely to bring increased

The National Autistic Society says that the lack of provision
for young people with ASD has reached an all time high.(2) Half of
adults with ASD are still living at home with their parents.(3) In
addition, 94 per cent of adults with ASD are unemployed. These
figures are unacceptable: many people with ASD are capable of
living independently and working if they receive sufficient support
but this is not happening.

Also a lack of understanding of the disorder can result in
distressing encounters with the police and can often lead to
imprisonment. Individuals may also find spending hours at home with
a lack of stimuli such as studying can lead to depression. Young
people with ASD can become so depressed they feel suicidal.
There is also a cost to the state because people with ASD are
unemployed. Their reliance on state benefits is expensive, as are
the costs of treating problems relating to long-term

All people with ASD should have the requisite support to help
them achieve their full potential and be able to live as
independently as possible. In order to achieve this, there must be
better transition planning from one service to another. The Public
Health Institute of Scotland recommends there should be “systems
and funding mechanisms that ease the transition between services
for individuals with ASD”.(4)

Again, in Scotland, The Same as You white paper recommended that
anyone with a learning difficulty, including people with ASD,
should have a personal life plan that shows in detail how the
person, their family and professionals can work together to help
them lead a fuller life.(5) This would include assessments for
community care, health, children’s services and the transition from
school to life after leaving.

I run six specialist residential schools and colleges for
children with ASD. Many achieve successful exam results and have
the opportunity to lead normal lives.

Also we have recently opened a residential unit for young people
aged 18-25. This provides them with continued educational and
social skills that will lead to the next step in independence.

A combination of wider awareness, legislation and further
provision will benefit all people with ASD and enable them to
become active, vital members of society.

Stephen Bradshaw is director of schools development for
Priory Education Services, part of the Priory Group. He has over 26
years’ experience working with special needs children and has set
up six schools and colleges dedicated to young people with autistic
spectrum disorders.

‘People don’t understand me’

Young people with Asperger’s syndrome give their views on
post-16 education provision.

Lucy: “While a number of colleges will say that
they cater for people with special needs, I have now been to two
and feel that their special needs provision is not suited to people
with Asperger’s syndrome.”

Maggie: “Lessons at college were boring and
repetitive and I didn’t feel that people understood me. I became
very miserable and this made learning and mixing with the others

Mark: “I have just finished Farleigh College
and am looking to attend somewhere similar, however there is very
little choice. If I do not find something soon, it is likely that I
will be living at home with my parents and effectively losing the
independence that I had been working towards.”


This article focuses on the lack of special education needs
provision for young adults with autistic spectrum disorders and
examines the resulting consequences, which at their most extreme
can lead to imprisonment and suicide. It argues that there needs to
be an increased awareness of these disorders, along with
legislation and further post-16 SEN provision in order for people
with ASD to lead more independent lives.


  1. National Autistic Society, GPs on Autism, NAS, 2003
  2. National Autistic Society, Inclusion and Autism: Is it
    Working?, NAS, 2000
  3. Barnard et al, Ignored or Ineligible? The Reality for Adults
    with Autism Spectrum Disorders’, NAS, 2001
  4. Public Health Institute of Scotland, Autistic Spectrum
    Disorder: Needs Assessment Report, PHIS, 2001
  5. Scottish executive, The Same as You? A Review of Services for
    People with Learning Disabilities, 2000

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