Growing up! The Hesley Group: Enhancing the lives of young people

“How many people have autism?” This common question is unfortunately one of the most difficult to answer as there is no central register of individuals who have been diagnosed with autism. It is only 50 years since Leo Kanner first described the autistic syndrome and since then a vast amount of research has led to the broadening of the concept of autistic disorders. Today, it is estimated that over half a million people have autism in the UK, of whom some 133,500 are under 18 years old.

These figures speak for themselves and there is clearly an increasing need for research into the needs of an aging autistic population in order to provide supported living, job placements, lifelong learning opportunities and community citizenship – to enable individuals to reach their full potential.

The Hesley Group offers care, education and vocational services for children and adults, all of whom have complex needs, challenging behaviours and severe learning difficulties, mainly arising from autism.

The Hesley team has developed practical expertise in helping young people and their families through the transition from children’s services to adult placements and continuing the lifelong learning model into adulthood. The Group manages two schools for students aged 8 years to 19 years old and three adult establishments for young people 16 years plus. Each has a different emphasis tailored to meet the individual needs of its residents.

Early interventions in childhood are proven to dramatically increase learning, communication, creativity and interactions with others. The Hesley Group schools, Fullerton House School and Wilsic Hall School, offer full programmes incorporating a wide range of learning activities from the national curriculum, to after school clubs and community based projects, all of which are resulting in significant student achievements.

The Hesley Group is also demonstrating that continued interventions into adulthood enable young people to build on this foundation and develop life skills to lead progressively independent and fulfilled lives.

Person centred-planning – the key to success

“A characteristic of our students and residents is the need for routine and any change to daily activity, no matter how small, can be extremely distressing for them. Therefore transferring from a school to adult services can be a very difficult emotional journey for not only the young person, their parents and associated family members but also their support staff,” commented Fred Furniss, Clinical Psychologist at the Hesley Group.

“We manage transition by placing the young person at the centre of the process, considering every decision and action from their perspective, and always acting in their best interests. We believe that this is best practice. Parents are critically important and are often under enormous pressure as they negotiate the lengthy statutory process. To alleviate some of this stress we recommend that parents start planning for the transition process when their child is 14 years old. There is a range of educational, vocational, and residential options available, so it is essential to research the opportunities to determine which will best suit their child’s future aspirations and capabilities to enable them to reach their full potential as community citizens,” continued Fred.

Supported Community Living at the Hesley Group

The Group recognises that as young adults, its residents should be encouraged to make supported decisions and pursue activities which stimulate communication, creativity and interaction and ultimately build life skills leading to a progressively independent life style.

The Group achieves this by offering three supported living models. Hesley Village & College (HVC) offers vocational, educational and recreational opportunities enabling residents to develop a structured daily routine which incorporates all aspects of life, from shopping in the local supermarket, onsite workshops, work placements and domestic chores all supported by an experienced and dedicated team.

Community Solutions provides a supported living environment in the heart of Thorne, near Doncaster. Six residents benefit from access to the local college, shops, community centre and HVC facilities, where a number have part time jobs assisting in the hairdressers and beauticians, all supported by a committed team of professionals.

Low Laithes Village is the newest establishment and focuses on developing the residents’ life skills through a practical learning-by-living model, vocational learning and community based projects, supported by their own dedicated team. Residents also enjoy HVC workshop and recreational facilities.

Zoe – a transition success story

Zoe started at the Hesley Group’s Fullerton House School, in April 1999. From the beginning she needed to know exactly what her schedule was and would create her own routines to enable her make sense of different situations.

“When Zoe was placed at Low Laithes Village, we were all delighted that she could continue to build on her significant achievements at Fullerton within the Hesley Group. We worked very closely with the support team and Zoe’s parents to establish a person-centred plan to ensure that Zoe’s experience of moving from the School to the Village was positive and as undisruptive as possible to her routine,” commented Julie Todd, Care Manager at Fullerton House School.

“Based on our collective knowledge, we decided that she would be informed of the move only the evening before. This decision was based on Zoe’s complex needs and the knowledge we had already gained from a previous move within the school, where Zoe was shown her new accommodation and moved straight in. If given too much consideration time Zoe’s anxiety levels increase, which can lead to behavioural issues.

“In August 2007 Zoe’s new support staff from Low Laithes started working with the Fullerton team. This gradual change from one team to another was extremely successful. For Zoe, the gradual staff handover in the familiar surroundings of the school combined with a swift move worked perfectly. She has adapted well and accepted the move and the new staff without undue disruption. Zoe has developed new routines and is participating in an increasing number of activities at Low Laithes,” continued Julie.

And what does the future hold for Zoe? Six months into her new adult life at Low Laithes, Zoe has already made noteworthy differences to her lifestyle. She now takes part in a weekly work placement with the RSPB, helping develop a new wetlands area.

Visits to HVC are also still very popular and Zoe particularly enjoys a range of treatments at the beauticians and hairdressers.

Domestic skills have been encouraged and now, with support, Zoe is actively preparing her own meals, creating shopping lists, shopping at the local supermarket and looking after her one bedroom apartment. She has developed a routine for cleaning, washing and generally keeping her home clean and tidy.

For more information on The Hesley Group visit or Tel: 0800 055 6789.

Note: Resident names have been changed for confidentiality reasons.

Phil Champion qualified as a teacher in 1976. Before joining the Hesley Group in 1989, he worked for NCH and Staffordshire County Council in teaching and senior management positions. Since then, Phil has held posts as Deputy Head at Hesley Hall School, Head of Fullerton House School, Group Principal (North) and is currently Principal and a member of the Group’s Executive body. Phil has been a visiting lecturer in Special Needs and Behaviour Management at Sheffield Hallam University.

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