Starting college – A mum’s perspective

I know how daunting everything can seem when the time comes for your child to move on from school. And how important it is to make the right decision, not only for them, but for your whole family. I am hoping that a “mum’s” perspective might be useful, as our daughter attended Henshaws College for many happy years!

Student Tessa with her family on graduation day

Our background

Hello, I’m Kate. Our middle child Tess was diagnosed with autism when she was just 2 years old.

When she was 16, she developed a rare form of brain tumour which left her with a visual impairment, compromised immune system and a reliance on medication to keep her endocrine structure functioning.

In her high school years, she was a pupil of the Leeds North West Specialist Inclusion Learning Centre and attended a base within a mainstream secondary school.

When the time came, we started to research further education options for her. And it was the specialisms offered by Henshaws in terms of nursing, autism and visual impairment which stood out to us.

Our first steps to a happy future

We knew that an up to date and truly reflective Education and Health Care Plan was essential. This legal document had to accurately describe Tessa’s special educational, health and of course, social care needs.

It needed to clearly lay out the help required to meet those needs. As well as the kind of support and planning which would enable her to achieve what she wanted in her life. We had to make some of those decisions for her.

She could not express that she wanted to be a chef or a gardener. But we did know that she wanted to experience a fulfilled an independent future. We worked with her school until we felt that she had the EHCP which she deserved!

I know that this alone can feel like a mind-blowing process. But Henshaws admissions team is truly experienced and so helpful. Never forget that getting the EHCP right is your child’s absolute right, and yours.

Student Tessa smiling at our 2016 college graduation ceremony

Research makes the plan work

It was vital that we researched all the facilities which were available around us. We visited, sometimes with Tess, to gain a clearer picture.

Our investigations had to consider not just the environments, but the expertise and the time that was on offer in terms of sessions or days. We looked at the possibilities for learning, for socialisation and for personal development.

As parents, I am certain that you have relied many times on your instincts to provide the answers for the difficult decisions you make on behalf of your child. We did exactly that, and our instincts pointed us firmly in the direction of Henshaws.

Battling the complications

If you are anything like us, you will already have “battling” on behalf of your child down to a fine art! That does not make it any less wearing or tiring. And we did have to fight to get Tessa her place at Henshaws.

Your experience will hopefully be straight forward. Any issues you come up against will likely be different from ours and reflect your child’s needs and story.

What I can say is that you are the authority on your family and your expertise must be heard. For us, the importance of getting Tess into our chosen setting of Henshaws was not just about the beginning of September. This was the beginning of her adult future. This college was able to offer us longevity, security, and a pathway to independence.

Unspoken fears and worries

The personalised programme which the team developed for Tess dealt with so many of our fears and concerns. She worked within groups of students who were able to enhance her development. Learning to be around people whose behaviours may have been challenging, provided a very necessary life skill in itself!

She gained so much confidence and learned incredible skills which I do not believe she would ever have accepted the teaching of from me!

Part of the team

That said, I was able to support her learning at home. She started to make her own cheese on toast and pair up the family’s socks from the washing rack! The beauty of such personal learning plans is that every student can develop in the ways which will most benefit them. And of course, their future.

Some of Tessa’s friends went on to work experience, some became horticultural experts. The list is long, and wonderful! As a family, we were always made to feel like part of the team.

The staff were always able to follow Tessa’s interests and lead to help her achieve her brilliant and sparkling potential. Whether your child is a residential or a day student, rest assured that their days and evenings will be expertly tailored and brilliant fun. Everyone from the physios to the speech and language team will work tirelessly to bring out the very best.

Where we are now

Tessa blossomed during her years at Henshaws. She developed into a confident young woman with the skills she needed to achieve her independence.

Tess now resides in an assisted living house with 8 other young people. She refers to that place as “home” and our house, as well, “our house”. She has a full life and brilliant relationships with other adults who are not related.

The Henshaws experience was just as much about us as it was Tess. We learned to trust that others could care for her, physically and emotionally. We learned how much she needed that. Her years at college helped to future proof our family. I no longer have that awful, terrorising, unspoken fear about that time, when we are no longer around. Starting at Henshaws College was a whole new beginning, in so many ways.

If you'd like to hear more from Kate, you can join us at one of our next virtual open days. To book your place please use the link below.

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