When we first met Charlie*
Charlie joined us at Cambian Whinfell School in 2009 after having previously been in a secure mental health setting. He presented with a diagnosis of ASD with emotional regulation and social communication difficulties. It was felt that his needs could best be met in a specialist school providing structured support in a therapeutic setting. Charlie had increasingly presented with challenging and unpredictable behaviour and had not accessed any meaningful education for the previous two years. He had an obsessive interest in violence, death and weapons which had resulted in serious concern being expressed for both his own safety and that of others.
When Charlie came to us
When Charlie joined Whinfell he exhibited a variety of dysfunctional behaviours in an attempt to fit in with his peer group. He would create elaborate, grisly stories to try and impress others. Charlie had very low self-esteem and struggled to learn new social skills which led to isolating himself. He was scared of new challenges and unfamiliar situations and would try to avoid meeting new people. He presented as being a deeply unhappy boy who adopted a very negative viewpoint of the world and there were concerns about him suffering from depression and selfharm. Charlie would also exhibit some violence toward staff and other students.
On arriving at Cambian Whinfell School, Charlie immediately benefitted from the calm, therapeutic and consistent environment. After the initial anxieties and difficulties of coming to terms with new expectations he began to trust staff and for the first time in his life developed appropriate friendships. Charlie had always tended to think in concrete and find himself in situations where he became aggressive towards those around him. The homely setting of Cambian Whinfell School means that the boys quickly form good relationships especially with key-workers, and through regular support we were able to teach Charlie strategies to deal with difficult situations and avoid escalation.
Through our multi-disciplinary approach we were able to cultivate strategies that worked for Charlie, and we saw his anxiety levels steadily decrease. This in turn meant that accessing education was less traumatic for him, and as his self-esteem evolved he became more confident about accepting new challenges. By focussing on literacy and numeracy, Charlie was able to increasingly access the curriculum. As time progressed he became more able to work independently and the improvement in his self-confidence was enormous. For the first time he felt he belonged to a community where he was valued and recognised and his improved social skills allowed him to become involved in activities outside school. As he went through school he began to take a leading role amongst the other boys and regularly volunteered to lead assemblies and produced very informative power point presentations which he enjoyed giving to the whole school.
Charlie gained GCSEs in maths and English and an ICT level 2 diploma, the equivalent to four C-grade GCSEs. He completed long-term work experience placements at a local animal sanctuary and conservation trust, represented the school in various competitions including football and was part of a team that came runner-up in the national final of the Consumer Challenge competition. He also joined a local youth club and gaming society.
At 17 Charlie was supported to attend Kendal FE College where he successfully completed a full-time Level 2 course in animal care alongside gaining AS level creative writing at school and regularly attending a work experience placement at the local zoo. Having completed his studies and before leaving school Charlie took part in a college trip to Kenya where he worked at an elephant sanctuary and helped build a school for orphaned youngsters.
What is the future like for Charlie
The future is bright for Charlie. He has a well-developed work ethic and is highly regarded by everyone he comes into contact with. His social skills and self-belief have improved remarkably and he is sufficiently robust to be able to live independently. He has a part-time catering job alongside developing his own dog-care business. He is a well-rounded young man of whom we are very proud and in addition to his other achievements he has developed a love for the outdoors, is in the process of finishing a novel and even writes poetry! We stay in touch and he occasionally comes back to school to inspire the other young people.
*Name has been changed to protect identity