'Like falling off a cliff into the abyss'. That was my feelings about the transition from children’s to adult’s services at sixteen years old. I remember it being a scary and confusing time for me and my family.
The SEND reforms that came into force in 2014 are intended to focus on what young people can achieve and their aspirations. However, what happens when young people themselves do not know what they can achieve? Non-disabled young people see non-disabled adults in a vast variety of occupations and lifestyles which they may then aspire to have. When I was going through transition I did not know any disabled adults who worked and had the kind of lifestyles I could aspire to and so I struggled to imagine myself as a disabled adult.
If the SEND reforms are centred around young people’s aspirations, it could sometimes be necessary to help them develop these aspirations in the first place.
Although with mixed success, there is now more inclusion of disabled people and those with special educational needs in the media but it is still very limited. Whilst it is probably not realistic to have disabled role models for every young person it could be possible to have case studies of what people have gone on to do. If I had been given this opportunity I may have found it easier to picture myself as an adult and what my life could look like which I believe would have taken some of the fear and uncertainty away.
I did not have access to advocacy services either and I feel this would have helped me and my family. I think advocacy services can be an overlooked but vital tool for young people and their families going through transition. It can be a minefield for families to navigate themselves through transition and the various services, both adults’ and children's. An advocate can help to alleviate this confusion by signposting to relevant services and taking some of the strain off families by liaising with professionals on their behalf. They can also serve the vital role of helping the young person to bring their voice into the planning process, helping towards the aim of person centred planning.
As well as this, I think it is important to highlight the need for young people to be encouraged to grow their confidence and skills in self-advocacy.
I was very shy and lacked the confidence to speak up in meetings. When I did I didn't always feel like I had been listened to. I think to have an advocate with me would have ensured I understood everything that was going on and I feel I would have been more confident to voice my feelings. I have since worked as an advocate and seen the positive effect that the development of self-advocacy skills can have on young people by increasing their confidence as well as making them more aware of their thoughts and feelings about what they want to happen. When transition is about moving young people into an adult life I feel self-advocacy is a vital skill as adult services often operate in very different ways to children’s. By practicing self-advocacy skills early on, young people will be in a better position to be involved in decision making in their adult life.
It is my firm belief that if young people with disabilities or special educational needs have an active say and contribution to planning meetings they are much more likely to be enthusiastic about the chosen outcome rather than feeling like it was forced on them.
As part of this and in order to inform their decisions, young people need to have positive and realistic aspirations to aim towards which may involve exploring what disabled adults have gone on to do.