The heart and soul of the AET – the AET Young Persons Panel
The AET Young Person’s Panel is a group of 10 autistic young people aged 16 to 25 from all over England who share their experiences of education and hold the AET team accountable for the work we do. The panel is formed of a dedicated group of autistic young people who understand the challenges of education and are experts in what works best for autistic young people in education. Every autistic young person is an expert in what support they need to experience a positive education and engage in employment so it is crucial that they are included in discussions about their lives.
Q1. What is the purpose of the Young Persons Panel?
Jacob told us for him the purpose of the panel is “to raise awareness and provide support for people with autism”. A core purpose of the Young Persons Panel is to ensure that the Autism Education Trust is guided by the views of autistic young people and the young people involved with the panel receive support to voice their opinions.
Tom describes the purpose of the panel as being “to help inform the education system on how to make things better for Autistic students”. As someone who has been part of the panel for a couple of years Tom has seen the impact that the Young Persons Panel has had on supporting autistic students, parents and education professionals to put autistic children and young people in the centre of conversations about their education.
Georgia states that “The Young Persons Panel is made up of young people who have come from all around the country with all different education experiences to work alongside the AET to input on their policies and programmes”.
Q2. Who are the members of the Young Persons Panel?
Jacob shared that the panel is formed of young adults who have autism.
The Young Persons Panel is made up of a diverse group of autistic young people who come from different areas of England, have been to different types of education provision and each have their own story of autism and education.
Each young person on the panel is unique in their experience of education, the conditions that co-occur with their autism and the provisions they’ve been able to access in education. They have experienced education before and after the SEND reforms of 2014.
Q3. Why is it important for you to be part of this organisation?
Jacob wrote that young people with autism “have experienced the ways in which education and employment have offered support and where they can improve”. Young people are the experts in what works for support so should be involved in decision making to ensure that decisions aren’t made about young people’s needs without consulting young people.
Ryan thinks it is important to be part of the Autism Education Trust as “you are helping change the lives of people with autism in an educational background”. Without a focus on improving education in a person-centred way that focuses on the needs of that young person, many autistic young people are being left out of the picture when it comes to their education.
Tom thinks it is important as “being part of the AET helps make a difference for autistic students”, by being on the panel and sharing their experience the panellists are helping make positive changes to education for autistic young people.
For Georgia “having had a tricky time in education herself and working with children with autism in an education setting she has lots of ideas she can input.” The young people involved in the panel don’t just have experiences of education from one point of view, their variety of experiences can help to feed into a much wider understanding of how to improve education for autistic young people.
Q4. Why is it important for education professionals to participate in AET’s programme?
Jacob feels strongly about the impact of a good education which ultimately affects a young person in their later life as they seek employment and independence. Education is the start and getting it wrong can often be catastrophic. “Autism has been overlooked greatly in education and employment, if the system was to improve and become more inclusive it would mean people with autism would find work and school significantly easier and would not be left out.” Autistic young people should not be left out and won’t be if more mainstream schools make reasonable adjustments. The AET panel is passionate about the training and resources of the AET Programme that support mainstream schools to do just that.
For Tom the answer is simple, ‘it’s important for professionals to be trained because they’re the ones who will take what we say helps and then apply it in the classroom’. Without training professionals, the changes that can be put in place for autistic students in the classroom won’t happen.
For Georgia getting education professionals involved in the AET is vitally important. “professionals need to take part in a programme designed with input from autistic young people. The AET programme offers professionals the chance to learn about autism from autistic young people in education and research into best practice”.
Q5. What are your three top tips for education professionals?
Jacob’s three top tips are:
- Be aware of what Autism is and how it affects people.
- Understand that we have difficulties and are trying our best.
- Put in place systems to best help Autistic employees or students.
Ryan’s top tips are:
- Have colour coded books for different subjects
- Have structured break times
- Be flexible with learning and education – put in place the support the child deserves
Tom’s top tips are:
- Treat every autistic student as an individual
- Be willing to adapt to students
- Explain the situation to other students in a manner that doesn’t alienate the autistic pupil
Georgia’s top tips are:
- The lack of funding is hard but sometimes it’s the little things that really help
- Each autistic person is different get to know them
- If you pick up on autistic traits please share them
Q6. What would you like to say to the readers of this newsletter?
Jacob wants readers to know that he ‘wants to make life easier for everyone I can’, this should be the aim of every person so that we can achieve a better world for all people by thinking about what they may need to make the world a little easier.
Tom would like readers of the newsletter to know that he’s “looking forward to another year of the panel and hopefully being able to continue making a positive impact on the lives of autistic people in education”.
As someone who has worked in a classroom Georgia knows more than most what it is like being an autistic student and trying to put support in place for autistic students in the classroom, for her the thing she wants readers to know is “training for all staff in an education setting is key “. For many staff, without training, autism can feel overwhelming unless you have a clear understanding and practical strategies of how to help.