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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