Francesca is 22 and lives with her parents in Surrey. She has two guinea pigs called Apple and Strudel and enjoys swimming and riding her bike. Francesca is supported by our outreach services in Surrey, and was also part of the FISH youth club run by our Surrey resource centre. The support has helped her build her confidence hugely, make new friends and even enjoying an overnight holiday.

I have always gone to special needs schools. When I was 14, I was finding it very difficult to cope with change at my secondary school. My parents took me to meet my paediatric consultant who told me that I was autistic with learning difficulties. This helped me to get a place at an autism-specific school. It took me some time to settle in, but they helped me a lot.

Through my school, my mum received a leaflet about youth clubs run by The National Autistic Society and she made an appointment for me to visit. I was lucky because the youth club in Guildford had a place for me. 

I did feel nervous - it was all new to me and I didn’t know anyone. For the first couple of weeks, my mum stayed nearby in a separate room in case I needed her. When I felt more comfortable I was able to stay for the whole two hours on my own.

My favourite trip was when we went away in the summer holidays for three nights and four days. We had such great fun together and came back very tired!

We got together every Friday and each week we did different activities. The youth club helped me to make friends and improve my confidence. I can find change very difficult but the staff here understand me and encourage me to cope with change a little better. I like to be with people I know, and it’s lots of fun when the different youth clubs go out together. I have known the staff for many years and they know me too. My favourite trip was when we went away in the summer holidays for three nights and four days. We had such great fun together and came back very tired!

When I was 18, I was able to get a buddy through The National Autistic Society’s outreach support in Surrey to help me. I have no brothers or sisters so I liked having someone new to be with. They made difficult things like going to the gym, travelling and money management fun. 

I have really enjoyed joining in with the activities the outreach team help make accessible to me. We have lots of fun together and learn new things about relationships and bullying too.

I am much more confident and relaxed than I was in the beginning, and when I’m not at college I do lots of activities with Disability Challengers and my youth club, also run by The National Autistic Society. Because of them, I’m happy to take part in activities and try out new things.