Autistic young people and adults can sometimes face challenges making friends and creating their own independent social life. In the right environment and with the right support, however, they can thrive amongst their peers, and develop confidence to do new and purposeful things. Kevin is on the autism spectrum, and his mum tells us the story of how our social group in Scotland helped him to truly enjoy life, as well as to be shortlisted for our Volunteer of the Year!
My son Kevin was born in 1987 and is the eldest of four siblings. Being in such a busy household, I had no immediate concerns that Kevin was presenting with any difficulties, although I did notice that he struggled to do typical things other young boys his age were doing like climbing frames at parks, learning to ride a bike and even small things like kicking and catching a ball. All of which came naturally to his younger brother and, at times, left Kevin feeling rather frustrated.
I particularly became aware that Kevin was struggling when he started primary school. He would get into trouble for small things such as making a mess when colouring in, or not handing in tidy work. Kevin said that if he gave other children stuff then they would let him play, and I think over the years this had greatest impact on me. The realisation that my young son was having to cope with a new school, teachers and peers, and finding that his only way to be included was by buying friends was heart-breaking.
Kevin got a full diagnosis in 1998 after a referral from his GP and period of assessment at Knightswood Clinic.
Secondary school brought a whole new set of issues. He faced high levels of verbal abuse, constantly being taunted and humiliated by others. Kevin became very withdrawn and would spend a lot of time in his room, becoming quite angry.
"Kevin became very withdrawn and would spend a lot of time in his room."
Following the advice of our social worker, Kevin joined the National Autistic Society Scotland’s social groups programme, where he has been a member since 2006. It was his first real opportunity to meet a wide range of people on the autism spectrum, taking part in different activities once a month like going to the cinema or going to a wall climbing centre. He could go out with others his own age, which was something he had never had. It allowed him to make choices, interact with others, speak up and feel valued and respected. Fundamentally, it got Kevin out of his room and allowed the barriers to come down.
Finally, a volunteer at the social group encouraged Kevin to take part in voluntary employment. This led him to being employed by West Dunbartonshire Council in a modern apprenticeship. As a family we have witnessed the many struggles that Kevin has faced, and have been through an emotional rollercoaster with him. I now see a lovely young man with self-esteem, dignity and goals to work towards.
"I now see a lovely young man with self-esteem, dignity and goals to work towards."
I am in no doubt that had it not been for the National Autistic Society’s social group, Kevin would still be shut in his room with no social interaction with peers his own age and no real future prospects, and a continuing distrust of the world outside and those in it. This is a truly wonderful and much-needed service.
Sandra Buckley, Scotland Social Groups Manager, also adds:
Kevin has recently decided he’d like to give something back to the National Autistic Society by volunteering and telling people how much the social groups have helped him improve his social skills and confidence. When Kevin joined our social group, he was very quiet, didn’t join in with conversations, didn’t like to walk with the group and struggled to go to noisy or busy places, especially when the group went to parties.
The change in Kevin has been unbelievable. He finished college, took part in work experience projects, and was offered a modern apprenticeship with West Dunbartonshire Council. I couldn’t have been more proud of him.
Since his apprenticeship finished, Kevin has applied and been successful in getting another job. His confidence has increased so much that he suggested we put on fundraising activities and started taking part in them. He’s also become a volunteer buddy with the West Dunbartonshire Social Group and a National Autistic Society social group in Glasgow.
"The change in Kevin has been unbelievable."
When new young people join a social group with us, Kevin chats to them, explaining what comes next at the group, finding out about the young person’s interests and introducing them to other members. He has been working with a young man who is extremely anxious, but as soon as the young man knows Kevin will be at the group, he relaxes. The young man is having some issues transitioning to college, so Kevin has decided to meet up with him at lunchtime one day per week to have a chat and give the young man something to look forward to.
Kevin is truly a great example to his peers and has encouraged other people on the autism spectrum to volunteer with us. I get daily enquiries from parents upset as their children become increasingly isolated. When I told a parent about how much Kevin has progressed, she said “That’s exactly what I want for my son!”
Kevin was one of just a few people shortlisted for our Volunteer of the Year awards 2016.