College is a time of growth for students preparing for university, further vocational training or employment. Young people with autism can also face additional challenges, with students often experiencing anxiety when coping with changes in routine or the challenge of settling into a new environment. Sensory overload can mean the busy sights and sounds of college can feel stressful and overwhelming and many face heightened anxiety due to noise, crowds or the pressures of specific social situations.
Many pupils receive one to one support at school, which can also be available within further education, but this is not always the best solution to help students prepare for their next stage in life.
To help its students grow vital independence skills in a safe haven and best prepare for the real world, Petroc College in Devon has introduced Brain in Hand for its students with autism and is seeing amazing results. Students using the technology have seen a reduction in anxiety, experienced fewer crisis events and have started to solve their own problems meaning they can stay in class and engage more in their education. Students also reported that they especially like that it helps them to ‘not stand out from the crowd’, that they are ‘using technology to improve their life, just like their friends’.
Petroc introduced Brain in Hand, which enables students to create for themselves a rich set of personalised coping strategies, and they have access to these on their phone when they need them most. They can also monitor their anxiety levels by pressing traffic lights on their app and request help from support staff when needed.
A secure website provides a record of the student’s usage – detailing issues they have faced, which coping strategies they used and anxiety level trends. In college, students visit the room they call the ‘Pod’, which is the college’s quiet space for students with additional needs, to meet support staff and together look at the website to spot new issues and discuss which solutions are working best.
The additional support that Brain in Hand gives is now being rolled out to benefit students on work experience placements at a local hospital. They are preparing for the challenges they will face in advance and although they anticipate rarely needing to press the red traffic light to indicate high anxiety, students report it makes them feel safer, as they will have a simple way to ask for help if they do need it and that it this features gives them confidence to attend the placement.
Talking about the programme, Alex Wittram, Learning Support Lecturer, said: “At Petroc we are keen to give students the best possible skills to flourish. Brain in Hand is a valuable tool to help our students with autism develop independence skills vital for success in the real world”.
To maximise the benefit of using Brain in Hand, Petroc is now introducing students to the technology before they begin their study programme, so that it can help them develop their own strategies right from the start of their college journey. It is encouraging parents to request Brain in Hand as part of their My Plan or Educational, Health & Care plan to help make the transition to college successfully. In the future it is hoped that students may be introduced to Brain in Hand whilst they are still at school so that they transfer to Petroc already using it.