Recently we have been using this blog to talk about changes to services for children and young people with SEN and disabilities under the Children and Families Act 2014. We have started to make these changes happen in Leeds. As part of this we have launched our new Leeds Local Offer website which we’ll be developing over the months ahead, please take a look and tell us what you think!
In this entry we focus on what the changes mean in reality to young people in Leeds. Aimee Grayston is a 17 year old studying and working in Leeds who supported the complex needs service and our partners in preparing for the reforms locally.
Best practice officer Natalie Samuel did a ‘virtual interview’ with Aimee (who communicates using a head switch operated computer) to hear about her experiences of using services in Leeds, and what changes she hopes the reforms will bring for other young people in future.
Natalie: Aimee, thanks for taking part in this virtual interview! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
Aimee: Well, I live near Leeds Bradford Airport, with my mother, step-father and brother, 2 dogs and an immense amount of fish. Currently, I work for Leeds Community Healthcare as a volunteer. In my personal life, I like reading fiction and supporting the group Boyzone takes up a lot of my time!
Natalie: Well I love reading myself, but I was always more of a Take That girl myself! But boy bands aside, I know you have also used your spare time to speak at conferences about your experience of learning in Leeds as a young person with complex needs. Why did you feel it was important to speak out in this way?
Aimee: Throughout their lives, young people who have complex health needs have to use services and I want to help make sure those services are genuinely centred around the young person’s own needs and desires. Although professionals often have the skills to support young people, they might not always remember that every individual has their own unique views and circumstances, and that should always be taken into account. I think that every young person’s experiences should form and shape better services for further generations, and I want to be part of that.
Natalie: So what have your own experiences been like?
Aimee: During my time in education, my experiences were a mixture of positive and negative. I would say that the support I obtained within the classroom was often outstanding. Many of the learning assistants I had were excellent at delivering support. An instance of good practice was my communication aid being continually refreshed with all the vocabulary needed for the curriculum at any point in time. However as a criticism, sometimes they performed their duties beyond what was actually helpful and beyond what I needed. Sometimes they were over-instructive about how I approached my work which was frustrating.
Natalie: What about the social side of school life?
Aimee: A great thing about school was meeting my 2 dearest friends. Since leaving school, we still get together on a regular basis and this is big part of my life. On the other hand, forming these relationships was not a simple process, partly because the education establishments I was in were sometimes a barrier. For example I was expected to sit at a table specifically for children with disabilities at break and lunch times. This was a real an obstacle to participating in the social aspect of school life. This was different at primary and secondary school, at one school I was permitted to invite one peer to accompany me at break; at another, contact with others was minimised until after the break.
Natalie: That sounds pretty isolating. How did that affect you?
Aimee: Throughout my final year, I experienced minor depression as a result of this and ultimately I got permission to join my peers on unspecified tables at break times. This was vital to create the connections with my friends. Other extra-curricular activities are pivotal to making friends too. A disappointment for me was the difficulty I had in participating in outings, especially with high school. My high school had a limited understanding of catering for less abled students and did not account for this when planning venues and trips. As a result, I took part in very few trips, and none of the residential trips. By comparison, I was able to attend all visits when at my primary school, so it can be done when people think about it!
Natalie: So have your experiences motivated you to get involve in changing services?
Aimee: Yes, definitely. Overall, I believe services need to take a more client-centred approach. Professionals need to consider that one set of approaches and structures is not necessarily going to work for every individual with complex needs. Take my case: I have involuntary movements from my condition, which makes it hard to control my upper limbs in particular. Since the age of 6 I have aspired to limit their mobility to as little as possible. I have tried so many devices as advised by health services; but none of them have really catered for what I wanted to achieve and some of them actually made things worse because they weren’t based on my needs and wishes. Professionals designing these kinds of resources would benefit from listening to clients’ actual wishes and requirements and developing products from there.
Natalie: Have your experiences influenced your career choices and future plans at all?
Aimee: Yes, although in an unexpected way. After a long break after my GCSEs, I had the opportunity of work experience in the health sector, which I decided to accept so I didn’t get jaded and irritable with nothing to do. I quickly started to relish the work and felt I’d discovered my calling in life. This was ironic, as previously I had deemed health services unsuitable for a career because I thought they only offered clinical vacancies! I’d actually thought about a career in journalism, because I’m passionate about writing, but now I’ve found I can use my writing skills in my work. I’m currently exploring a longer term placement or apprenticeship in the health sector, because I want to make a real impact on children’s services, not just where I work in Leeds Community Healthcare but in partner agencies too.
Natalie: I have no doubt you will Aimee! Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us, and very best of luck for the next steps in your career!
Thanks to Aimee for talking to us and sharing her story. If you’d like to share your story or your views here, like Aimee, then we’d really like to hear from you.
We’d also like to hear what you think about the issues Aimee raises here. Get in touch with us: firstname.lastname@example.org.