One year on from Henshaws College

It is now almost a year since Tessa graduated from Henshaws College, and a whole eight months since she began her new adventure, living independently from the rest of her family. Tess is visually impaired and has autism, which means she has limited verbal communication.

We caught up with mum, Kate, to find out how she's getting on and get her tips for other parents letting go of disabled children leaving the nest.

“Wow, what an exciting time it has been! We have learned so much about our wonderful girl, and possibly even more about ourselves!

Tess has made her own relationships with staff and other residents, some are stronger than others. Some are filled with affection and some are simply practical. All are successful.

There are certain things which we are not allowed, by Tess, to be involved with in her new pad. We are definitely not permitted to stay for mealtimes. Quite right too! She has her own routines, follows different rules and plans and why on earth should we expect to be included in that? Letting go of our control was always part of the deal in enabling her to become an independent grown up! I cannot say that this did not sting a bit at first. Ouch! Of course, it did!

Tessa, College Graduate

She calls her new place “home” and our house is referred to as, well… "our house”. Double ouch! However, her absolute gain has totally outweighed any of our minor discomforts or pain!

If you’re going through the same thing, here are my tips, which may help you and yours along the way….

1. Get to know the staff

Spend time getting to know your child’s carers. As parents, you are definitely the best resource they have and if for any reason, you feel that they do not want or appreciate your input, then something is wrong. The more they know about your family dynamic and history, the better carers they will be, able to understand the old and build on the new. Every bit of information you can give is important. It may not have relevance in the same way, but will certainly help staff to piece together the best practices for the future.

2. Communicate… But just enough!

You may not be around the corner any more, but always keep open the lines of communication. You should feel able to email or phone anytime… within reason! Shift changes can mean that you do not always get to see the same staff members when you visit. We introduced a little book which staff on any shift can write in. They share with us snippets about life in general. We were recently asked, via the book, for a different kind of hair brush so that staff could do justice to Tessa’s “Bob cut” during her personal care. How fantastic is that?

3. Take a step back and employ the ‘trust factor’

It may seem difficult at first, but you do not need to know every aspect of your child’s care plan and existence. This is their world now, and your entitlement to share in every second is no more. Of course you want to know that they have properly planned and appropriate activities. You need to know that their medical needs are being fully understood and met. You have to know that they are happy and eating well. You will come to know all of this, instinctively. It actually does not matter if there was a “grump” over a certain meal, a lack of enthusiasm to shower for a day or two, or even a lovely trip to the park! The staff will let you know if anything is going on that could be a worry. They will definitely tell you about the fabulous stuff, the successes, triumphs and huge leaps forward. The details of everyday life will be successfully worked out, compromised on, and agreed between your child and the people caring for him or her. Allowing yourself to let this happen opens up a whole new and exciting world, for all of you!

4. The visiting balance

For us, this too, developed naturally. We did visit lots in the early days, but in truth that was possibly more for our benefit than Tessa’s! Because we know her major activities, we can plan not to visit on “swim” days, “riding” days etc. We tend to take her out twice weekly, although this is not cast in stone and we tell her if a day is changing for any reason. We don’t feel the need to provide her with earth shatteringly, exciting activities, just the same old happy stuff we always did! She was pleased to come back to “our house” for a lovely Christmas and Easter, and then returned “home” with just as much joy and enthusiasm!


Tessa’s years at Henshaws College were a vital launching pad for our family. It was the time that Tess began to learn the skills and build the self-confidence she would need to move away from us. Equally, we were able to learn the skills and build the self-confidence to let her!

The year since graduation has been the proverbial “emotional roller coaster”. I can honestly say, looking back, that I would not change a single second of it. Everything that she, and we, have experienced, the good, the not so good, the terrible and the brilliant, have lead us to where we are today. A truly happy place!”

– Kate Simpson, proud mum of Tessa.

Find out more about Henshaws College and how we support young people with disabilities on our College web pages.

Log in or register to download

Read more about Tessa and Kate's journey in their blog series

One year on from Henshaws College

It is now almost a year since Tessa graduated from Henshaws College. We caught up with her mum, Kate, to find out how she's doing.

We can't do it without you

Henshaws rely on voluntary donations; our work just wouldn’t be possible without people like you. Your support empowers local people living with sight loss and a range of other disabilities to increase their independence, achieve their dreams, and go beyond expectations.

Donate now