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The School of New Ideas

Thinking differently about Autism

MA 2020/2022
Keywords
Autism, Neurodiversity, Inclusive, Learning, Social Impact
Overview

The School of New Ideas is a personalised support service for young autistic individuals. It aims to equip individuals with the confidence to navigate the transitions into adulthood, build connections with peers, and aspire to live impactful lives in a diverse society. Our series of pathways centre around individuals' interests, whilst guiding them towards understanding themselves and setting future goals in a safe non-judgemental environment.

The pathways offer both interactive group work and individual mentoring sessions. Our Autism passport sits alongside the pathways, enabling individuals to track their progress and share valuable information with friends, family and employers.

Collaboration
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BACKGROUND

Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopment condition which affects how people interact with the world. There are around 700,000 people in the UK with a diagnosis of autism. But many cases have not yet been diagnosed or even discovered. Autism is a spectrum characterised by a broad set of conditions - including challenges with socialising, repetitive behaviour, sensory issues and speech difficulties. Autistic people often display great attention to detail, strong focus skills, creativity, and visual learning skills.

Autistic individuals have varying support needs, some require full-time care support. We focus on those with less obvious support needs. Their perceived ableness leaves them grossly underserved by public and healthcare services. In addition, outdated stereotypes and misleading media depictions leave many individuals feeling isolated and misunderstood.

Young adults are faced with many changes and the challenge of forming their identity within social groups. There is an increasing sense of otherness and anxiety at this age. Most don’t feel prepared for adulthood - they are 10x times more likely to drop out of university; and shockingly only 22% of autistic individuals are in full-time employment.

RESEARCH & INSIGHTS

Autism is a spectrum characterised by a broad set of conditions - including challenges with socialising, repetitive behaviour, sensory issues and speech difficulties. Autistic people often display great attention to detail, strong focus skills, creativity, and visual learning skills.

In our research, we connected with various support groups, collected 66 survey responses, and conducted 30+ interviews from various stakeholders across the service ecosystem, building an understanding of their needs.

CHALLENGES:

  • Individuals mask characteristics to ‘fit’ into environments designed for neurotypicals. This leads to increased anxiety which can result in meltdowns which can further result in dropping out of work or school. 
  • Clinical support sharply declines as individuals reach adulthood. Diagnosis can take an average of 3 years and the loose network of service providers means if individuals fall outside of an institution’s remit, any previous support becomes unavailable.
  • Staying on top of vital administrative tasks is a big challenge for most of the autistic adults we spoke to. There is a struggle with controlling executive functions.

OPPORTUNITIES:

  • Looking at individuals like Temple Grandin, Bill Gates and Sir Isaac Newton we see a pattern of individuals having intense interests and finding the right way in cultivating those interests. Interests can serve as a way of negotiating difficult relationships and engaging in skills outside of their previous areas of comfort.
  • Having someone to encourage strengths and help navigate changes can be hugely beneficial for young adults. We see opportunities for a consistent support network of mentors that individuals can access at any point in their journey towards adulthood.
  • The double-empathy theory has shown that autistic individuals build a greater sense of rapport amongst themselves, and communicate just as effectively as neurotypicals. There are opportunities to develop connections and experience sharing in a safe environment with like-minded peers.

PROBLEM DIRECTION

How might we support young autistic individuals develop the confidence to navigate through the transitions into adulthood, to build connections with peers in a safe environment, and to aspire to live purposeful, impactful lives.

DEVELOP

We ran workshops to ideate and validate our prototypes as we progressed. The impact on design was an understanding of the need for a flexible and tailored support service that was accessible through an individual’s journey.

Our programmes are designed to support individuals in tackling both internal and external pressures of becoming adults. We offer our service to young autistic adults between 15-18 and 18-25 age range.

  • Future Pathways is a mentoring based service which is about understanding the internal strengths and interests, and setting goals and paths towards a career. 
  • Design Runway is a team learning space to develop your interests, strengths, and technical skills around real-life projects led by facilitators. 
  • Life Hacking looks at how to manage external problems and hurdles in a peer-based support environment.
  • Autism Passport: Our Autism passport sits alongside the pathways, enabling individuals to track their progress and share valuable information with friends, family and employers.

IMPACT

For individuals we provide the autonomy and flexibility to curate their support needs. We empower and build confidence in individuals' unique skills and interests, while providing safe spaces to explore challenges. 

Partnering organisations can pledge company staff to become mentors, joining the mentor network. This is both a space to share knowledge and inspire future generations and a place to better understand Autism. This understanding feeds back into their organisations, communities and families.

 

Reducing drop-out rates, burnouts and improving employment means less pressure on healthcare, social services and government budgets. Improved understanding and advocacy means less stigmatisation and social isolation.

SPECIAL
THANKS

A special thanks to The Kent Autistic Trust who connected us with the autism community in the South East. To all those individuals who gave their time to share insights, knowledge and experience with us. Thank you to Alex and Fred Jones and Kendra Clulow for their continued engagement and support on the project through the research and prototyping. Thank you Magda Kreps for bringing the research to life through your animation. To Katie Gaudion, Jon Adams and Robyn Steward, we value your continued work with the autistic community. Thank you for your feedback on this project. Finally, thank you Judah Armani. Your unwavering support has enabled us to overcome the many challenges presented by this project. 

To those we did not have the word count to include, we want to say a massive thank you for your time and support on this project. 

Team
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