One more step: life after specialist college

Kate Simpson is mum to twenty-two year old Tessa, who recently graduated from Henshaws Specialist College. One month on, Kate describes what life has been like for the family since, how they are planning for Tessa's future and why the next step is all about trusting in her ability to sparkle.

Student Tessa with her family on graduation day

“Tessa graduated from Henshaws over a month ago now! The tears of pride have just about dried and her graduation photo is framed and sitting perfectly alongside her brothers’. We have had a fabulous holiday in the Norfolk Broads, where the weather was kind and days were full and exciting.

Thinking about the future

Long before the time came to leave behind that wonderful and safe haven of college, we as a family started to think about exactly what Tessa’s next steps might look like, and that of course was the scary bit!

We have always known that all three of our children would eventually leave home. That is what bringing them up has been about.

We try as parents to give them a solid foundation, the confidence to be who they are and to feel that they are ready and worthy to start carving out their path in this world. This is their absolute right. As mum’s and Dad’s, we too have rights and whilst we never stop loving or worrying and will always keep their home fires burning, we are entitled to enjoy this new phase of our lives which comes hand in hand with our children’s independence.

Student Tessa smiling at our 2016 college graduation ceremony

All that said, still there is that little voice, in truth, sometimes a very loud and frightening voice which says “yes, but this is one is different! This one cannot always speak for herself. Nobody knows this one like I do. Nobody can manage her medication like I can, nobody understands her joys and sadness the way I do!”

It would be easy to let that voice take over, but then what of Tessa’s voice? She is now twenty-two years old. She has watched her older and younger brother go off to University. She has helped to unpack their new lives. She has missed them, managed without them, enjoyed their returns and been glad to see the back of them again! She knows they are loved, that they will always have a place with Mum and Dad and that they are happy.

Tess spent three years at Henshaws working hard to learn all the life and communication skills which will enable her to enjoy an independence. It would be unfair to her and to all the dedicated staff at college if we were to let that go to waste!

Time to trust

All bar the crossing of t’s and the dotting of i’s we have secured the next part of Tessa’s journey. She will soon be living locally, in a wonderful home with seven other young people who are also embarking for the first time, on a new life away from family.

Tessa is a vibrant, happy, capable young woman and she deserves her time to develop, form new relationships and make new discoveries! For us, it is time to trust, in lots of other people but mostly in her and her ability to sparkle!

I am certain that the “voice” will always be there, but with time will turn in to a whisper. The most terrifying voice of all would be the one that spoke of our old age, incapacity or loss and of a girl who was never given the chance to find a world which did not include us.

Henshaws graduate Tessa enjoying walking through the woods during a family holiday Student Tessa on holiday smiling outside with a brick wall in the background Student Tessa eating an icecream while on holiday by the coast with her family

As each of them left infant school for juniors their final assembly would include a song which could always reduce me to a tearful wreck:

One more step along the world I go, one more step along the world I go. From the old things to the new, keep me travelling along with you!

We will always be travelling with her, but it is definitely time to let her go off in front!”

Kate Simpson

Visit our College pages for more information about our study programmes for young people aged 16-25 with special educational needs and disabilities.

You can also download Kate’s top tips for supporting your child to live independently in our step-by-step guide to living with disability eBook.

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