Nadine's Autism challenge

World Autism Month – How can we be more autism-friendly?

16 April 2021

April marks World Autism Month, and Nadine Wood, one of our dedicated Learning Resources Officers at Coleg Gwent, shares her story and explains why she chose to complete a challenge for Autism Awareness.

Nadine’s challenge was in aid of the National Autistic Society – a fantastic organisation that provides a great deal of valuable support and information for autistic people and their families, as well as guidance and training for professionals. They also campaign for improved rights, services and opportunities for autistic people, and being mum to three boys with two diagnosed with Autism – Kellan aged 13 and Joshua aged 6 – Nadine is extremely passionate about raising awareness. And at Coleg Gwent, we encourage all our staff to improve their understanding to help make our college environment autism-friendly.

Nadine’s experiences of Autism

Being a mum to autistic children throws up lots of daily (and nightly!) challenges as they learn to navigate the world. Nadine’s boys like lots of structure and routine, time and space to themselves, and have sensory differences. This means that they sometimes struggle to process sensory information and can often get overwhelmed and stressed by situations or places where there’s a lot going on or if their routines are disrupted.

But despite the difficulties they face, Kellan and Joshua are both amazing boys who make Nadine proud every day. Kellan has an amazing dry wit (he does a great impression of Donald Trump!), has a talent for math’s and writing stories, is a fantastic goalkeeper for his local team, and is very sociable. Meanwhile, Joshua has a fantastic sense of humour and fun. He’s fascinated with words and numbers and is reading way above his age level. He loves dancing and singing (as long as it is him singing and no one else!) and he loves his family and dog Bo!

With her sons for inspiration, Nadine is a great believer that while autistic people might face many challenges and have varying support needs throughout their lives, just like everyone else, they have their own unique strengths and talents that should be embraced and encouraged, and this is something we value at Coleg Gwent. All learners are welcome at college, and we aim to create an inclusive environment with all the support and guidance you need to flourish and succeed.

Super 7 challenge

So, for her ‘Super 7’ challenge, Nadine decided to complete a fitness challenge every day for 7 days, with a ‘super 7’ theme. She ran 7k every other day, and on the days in between she completed a fitness circuit with 7 rounds of exercise, including burpees, kettlebell swings, sit ups, skipping, star jumps, lunges and planks. For the final day of the challenge, Nadine walked 7 miles from her home to Caerphilly Castle, and she’s pleased to have raised a total of £333 for the National Autistic Society!

Nadine's Autism challenge on Strava

On top of all this, Nadine is also keeping extra busy as she’s currently studying for a Post-graduate Certificate in Autism along with several of her colleagues at Coleg Gwent. While she already had a good understanding of Autism, the course has made her think more about the issues young people and adults may face in their day to day lives and she’s finding it really interesting and insightful.

So, how can we be more Autism-friendly as a college?

Autism affects at least 1 in 100 people in Wales and awareness of autism has increased in recent years. So, we’re hopeful that we’re now moving towards an approach of creating environments which suit the needs of autistic learners, rather than expecting individuals to change to fit in to the environment. The availability of a range of technology, apps and support in college also means that learning now has the potential to be much more accessible and inclusive for autistic people, who may find more ‘traditional’ teaching methods a challenge. So, at Coleg Gwent, we encourage our staff to watch the Autism Wales ‘What is autism?’ film and complete the Autism Awareness Certification scheme to raise awareness and acceptance, and break down barriers that autistic learners face.

To create a more autism-friendly environment at Coleg Gwent, Nadine explains that it’s important for us all to:

  • Accommodate sensory, communication, and social needs of individuals with Autism, in every aspect of college life, remembering that every autistic person is different.
  • Have staff that are trained to be aware of different needs and are able to offer assistance and support.
  • Consider the amount of sensory stimuli in classrooms and public areas, so that individuals with autism can tolerate being in a space.
  • Provide a safe space for autistic learners and staff to go if they feel overwhelmed.
  • Respond to feedback and suggestions from the autism community, and make sure that the voices of autistic learners and staff are heard.

Discover the support available to autistic learners at Coleg Gwent here, or join our next Virtual Open Event to meet our support staff and find out more.