Activity Club helps autistic teen to express his feelings
A 16-year-old autistic boy from Moss Pit, in Stafford, has written a poignant account of his positive experiences at an Activity Club run by one of the country’s leading children’s charities.
Ethan, who is also dyslexic, finds it difficult to communicate with his classmates at Stafford Manor High School.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people. This difficulty in socialising has left him with no school friends.
Autism can also affect a person’s senses and Ethan finds it difficult to cope with the noise made by large groups of school children. As a result he prefers to sit by himself during breaks, and throughout lunchtime.
“When he was in Year 7 and 8 he was bullied a lot and in December 2017 he was even attacked outside school,” explained his mum Tina, a teaching assistant. “However, bullying generally has not been an issue in Year 10 and 11 and the teachers have been fantastic, they’ve done so much to care for his wellbeing.”
Luckily Tina, aged 37, heard about volunteering opportunities for Caudwell Children, the Staffordshire based national charity that provides practical and emotional support to disabled children and young people.
“As soon as I began volunteering on the charity’s activity days I could see the value of them,” said Tina. “That’s when I decided to take Ethan with me in the hope that he would make some new friends.”
Reluctantly, last April, Ethan went along to a session at the Northfield Centre, in Stafford, and that’s when his social life began to change for the better.
“I knew he was enjoying it, which was amazing in itself, he just seemed to click with the other nine boys who regularly attended the sessions,” said Tina. “Many of them have autism and he really enjoys being with people who understand him.
“It’s not really about what he does when he’s there, it’s more about being able to go somewhere and not be judged, and the charity’s friendly volunteers, who run the club, are so welcoming.”
Recently, during one of the fortnightly weekend sessions, attendees were asked to write a piece about themselves.
Although Tina knew how important the sessions were to her son, and the other children who attend them, she was deeply moved by what Ethan wrote.
Entitled From Solitude to Friendship Ethan wrote: – I would wander in the school alone. Isolated. Cast off from other groups of kids in my school. I would sit in class and look around to see everyone with their friends. When school would finish, I would waste no time in rushing home to enter my room of darkness and solitude.
However, one Saturday lunch, my Mum took me in a car to a place that would change my life for the best. When we arrived, I got out of the car and walked into the building, walking behind my Mum in fear. I asked my Mum, “Where are we going?” She answered, “A place called Caudwell. Here the kids are like you so you will make friends and it will help you recover from the darkness of isolation.” I walk into the room and everyone surprised me with a welcome party.
That was the day I realised that I wouldn’t be alone again.
Dad, Ashley, aged 39, describes Ethan as a bright boy who is good at studying and says he’s currently preparing for his GCSE’s. “He’s predicted for good grades in science and maths but English is a bit more challenging for him due to his dyslexia,” he explained. “His aim is to go to college to do a BTEC Extended Diploma in Applied Science, which is the equivalent to 3 A Levels, and he’s working incredibly hard to achieve this.
“He’s very diligent and we’re hoping his continued attendance at the activity club will assist his transition to college.”
Tina says Ethan comes out of his shell during the sessions and, unlike school, he communicates with the other children. She said: “It’s amazing to see him light up and Ashley and I are so happy that he’s now interacting and able to socialise with friends.
“He still has challenges ahead but it’s amazing to see him engaging with other young people and we can’t thank Caudwell Children, and their incredible team of volunteers, enough for operating the activity club.
“It’s so important that groups like this continue for the children and that people put themselves forward as volunteers.”
The activity clubs, funded by Aiming High Staffordshire, are ASDAN accredited as part of their Key Steps Award.
Participants at the clubs, which take place in Stafford, Newcastle, Lichfield, Tamworth, Burton-on-Trent, Wolverhampton, Cannock and Leek, have the opportunity to gain an ASDAN short course certificate.
ASDAN is a pioneering curriculum development organisation and awarding body which ensures that accredited programmes grow skills for learning, employment and life.
You can find out more about Caudwell Children’s Staffordshire activity clubs by calling the Family Services team on 01782 433730, or by visiting the web page here.
You can find out more about volunteering on one of the charity’s activity clubs by ringing the Volunteer team on 01782 433613.