Moving from a residential school in Hampshire to supported living in Surrey with Achieve together involved Simon embracing a host of new life experiences. He was already used to living away from home, having attended Grateley House School for five years. However, the transition was still a big step for the then 19-year-old who is autistic.
With supported living funding in place due to his ongoing support needs, Simon and his mother, Audrey, looked at various options to find the right home. “My mum looked at several places, and I would visit the ones that she felt might work,” explains Simon. “I visited two residential colleges but decided that I didn’t want to be in a place that focuses on education.”
His Achieve together home was the top choice for many reasons. Firstly, Simon based his decision on the people he met who lived and worked there. It was also conveniently close to his mother’s home. The flat was ‘jaw-droppingly nice’, and it was in a good location for public transport.
Of the process involved in transitioning, Simon explains: “Two people came to visit me while I was still at school, Ben who became my Keyworker, and Lee from the Referrals and Placements Team. A few weeks after that, we arranged a visit to the home itself, and I just had really nice thoughts from that visit,” he says.
“In the lead-up to the move date, they offered me an overnight stay or two. I felt quite confident about sleeping there as I’ve been to three different boarding schools, so I said ‘no’. I went for a day and evening visit and went out with others who lived there to the nearby town of Redhill to see what that was like.”
“I was still anxious about the move, but I didn’t struggle with being away from my family as I was already used to that. It didn’t take me too long to feel settled.”
It took a little longer for Simon to acquire new skills he would need in his adult life. “At school, every meal was provided, and we were driven everywhere when we went out. I had to learn to shop and cook for myself and understand what cleaning solutions to use where. If I wanted to go shopping or to the doctor, I had to take a bus or train,” says Simon.
He is full of praise for his Support Workers who, he says, ‘taught me so much’.
Another aspect of life new to Simon was the broader mix of people he now lived with. “At school, we were all quite independent, but at my new supporting living home some people need a lot of support.”
Building his life
Already familiar with using public transport, Simon soon enrolled on a business course at a local college three days a week. Not knowing any people in the area, he initially spent much of his spare time in his room on his Xbox. He also made an effort to sit in the communal lounge area, getting to know his housemates.
“I do my shopping daily, so go to Redhill most days to get out,” he adds. “One or two nights a week, I might stay with my mum or meet someone in the family to go to the cinema or a meal.”
Before long, Simon found a job volunteering at a shop in Redhill. He has also continued with his own enterprise, delivering Autism Training to schools and businesses, a venture he started at 17.
In the ensuing years, Simon has worked for Achieve together and is now one of our Ambassadors and trainers, which involves him giving presentations, teaching support teams attending exhibitions, and involvement in our Autism Strategy Group. Simon has presented on the topic of autism at significant national events, such as the National Association of Head Teachers Conference and the London Autism Show.
Advice for others
“Transition is a very individual thing. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for others, but here are my top tips for individuals and families,” advises Simon.
- Always visit your potential home to look around and see the environment.
- Take up the offer of day and evening visits to see how things work and what happens each day.
- Use overnight stays to see how you feel and reflect on those feelings when you return home.
- Try to get as much information as possible about support team levels and how many hours of support you will receive each day.
- Meet people living at the home and choose somewhere you feel you will fit in quite easily.
- Ask about what will be expected of you and the support team.