Change that leads to better lives

Blog: Does inclusion depend on having the confidence to give things a go?

This National Inclusion Week Alice McColl, Time to Talk Next Steps programme lead and parent of a young person with additional needs, considers inclusion for young people beyond school.

I recently had an interesting conversation with another parent. We both have 16-year-olds with additional support needs who left mainstream school in the summer. It led me to recognise that whilst this “cliff edge” can present challenges for many young people and families it can have a hugely positive effect on others. Especially those, like my son, who have really struggled their way through mainstream education, always feeling different, needing lots of support and yet feeling very self-conscious and unhappy about receiving it. For him “inclusion” support ironically meant separation from peers and subsequent feelings of being left out and excluded. As a family we have become clear that results in exams are much lower on the priority list than having good mental health. Despite uncertainty and fear of the unknown, leaving school has raised exciting new opportunities for my son and a chance to develop his identity.

Alice inclusion blog quote
Alice McColl, Time to Talk Next Steps: "For my son, inclusion support ironically meant separation from peers and subsequent feelings of being left out and excluded."

But what if you don’t have the confidence to move forward after leaving school?

As humans, trying out new things helps us to grow but it is also dependent on having the confidence and support you need to try them out in the first place. It is not surprising that some young people, who feel unsure of themselves and for whom changes cause anxiety and stress, become stuck after leaving school. And of course, social media, access to so many things online, and the legacy of COVID have made it simpler and easier for many talented young people to stay at home, avoiding new people and new adventures. There are too many unknowns. This is something we feared for our son. We saw his confidence become lower and lower through years 10 and 11. It seemed like we were working hard at home to bolster his spirits in spite of the education system and the endless drudge of tests in which he was told he was “failing” (a word we have worked hard to banish!).

Some young people can become lonely and isolated after leaving school. Just when they should be launching into the world and discovering all their strengths and talents, they feel unsure and stuck. I know from experience how family relationships can become strained, and how we have benefited from someone outside the family supporting to my son to recognise how wonderful he is!

Time to Talk Next Steps

Founded on NDTi's work to deliver the national Preparing for Adulthood programme, we developed Time to Talk Next Steps which can support young people and their families at this tricky time. A small team of staff and associates provide tailored support for young people (16-25yrs) with additional needs from across England. We meet many young people who have elevated levels of anxiety and who talk to us about feeling excluded, stuck, or demotivated. Some have been able to use this virtual light-touch support to discuss fears, goals and conquer new challenges. The team are constantly impressed by how, with the right support at the right time, some young people quickly move forward. They can go from feeling like they have nothing to contribute and not wanting to talk about themselves at all to sharing their ideas, linking with peers, researching opportunities, seeking out courses, exploring social activities and even attending overnight residentials.

Robert's story

Robert at Away Day
Picture of Robert with two of the NDTi team. Robert recently came along to our annual away days to share some of Time to Talk Next Steps’ work with the NDTi team.

Robert is a 24-year-old autistic young man who has struggled since leaving school. His neighbour helped him to seek out support and described him as “falling off the radar of all government help.” Since COVID he became increasingly socially isolated and lonely and was acutely aware that he did not want to be a burden to his parents but needed to find a job he could manage. Robert has become a stalwart of the project. Following a series of one-to-one support sessions with a Time to Talk Next Steps Supporter he joined the Peer Support group and met other young people who have felt isolated and want to connect with others. He has gone on to make many contributions to the project from supporting and encouraging other young people, facilitating meetings, and most recently working with others to design and deliver national workshops and training sessions for practitioners. After many frustrating dead ends and applications Robert has recently successfully started employment.

Robert said: “When I joined my first peer support session, I didn’t know what to expect or how well it was going to go for me. As the sessions progressed week by week, month by month I felt more comfortable talking, not just to the staff from NDTi but the other people as well. I also enjoy socialising with the others and taking part in the many topics, discussions and activities and try my best to be of a contribution to them.

"What surprised me the most about these sessions were how genuinely nice and inclusive they have been so far and that everyone is involved in some way. It's a space where everyone and everybody is welcome and nobody gets left behind. I am probably not the only one to say that this is so rare in this day and age so it is refreshing to see. I highly recommend this to absolutely anyone because the help and support you get is guaranteed. Whether it is help with getting work or improving social skills for everyday life (or both), it doesn’t matter – you will be welcome 100%. I have no regrets so thank you very much, NDTi.”

Being more inclusive

A key element to successful inclusivity, be it at home or at work, is being responsive and creative when challenges and changes arise. We are always looking for solutions and ways to build confidence albeit it out of difficult situations. Above all we have learnt to keep it simple. No launching into career talks and future plans (an approach that is guaranteed to send my son under the duvet or onto the X-Box for days!) It’s the same for all of us – only when you feel comfortable and that you belong, and you are working from a position of strength is it possible to take on new challenges and information and contribute your own ideas.

To be inclusive we need a focus on strengths, identity, and hope. At Time to Talk Next Steps these are our essential “ingredients” (with added pinches of humour, playfulness, and consistency). We have the huge privilege seeing young people, who have been out of education, employment or training for years, grow in confidence and begin to recognise that their contribution matters. They link with others and realise they are not alone.

With confidence comes openness to try out new opportunities. Sometimes simply trying a new course, work placement, job, social activity can help with decisions about the future. Even if you don’t like it, you can tick it off as being something to avoid. Not so long ago we worried that our son would never come out of his room. Now, with confidence intact, he has started a course at the local college. Its not what he had originally planned, but he is trying it out and so far, so good. He feels part of life and that things are moving on for him and that’s all a parent can ask for.

Find out more about Time to Talk Next Steps.

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