How it started
It all started 2009 when I was 15 and I was literally halfway through my year of GCSEs. I got excluded from school constantly. I sort of I went from being the quiet polite child to just kicking out at everyone and everything. It was partially because of bullying but it was partly my behavior and obviously school didn’t know how to deal with my behaviour, because they weren’t really qualified in dealing with people with autism and special needs.
So my father and I heard about red balloon through various places. We went along to sort of scout it and find out what it was about as it was still relatively new when I found out about it. I had an interview and I had an induction and I really liked how it was outlined and introduced. So I decided I’d start at Red Balloon NW London. I was there from 2009 to 2010.
Red Balloon was an extremely different environment a lot more comfortable and more relaxed.
A relaxed environment
I found it more relaxed because it’s in a house and I wouldn’t say it’s not like a proper “normal” school like you’d expect from a mainstream. I think because it’s like a home environment it’s more relaxed straight away. And then of course the teaching….it’s not like with most teachers where they’re like “this is how we’re teaching it and this is how it’s done”. They always try to work with you on a level more based around you specifically rather than everyone in general. The classes are smaller and it is more focused on your speed of learning. The fact it was very informal and it was easy going and you could talk to the teachers about anything, you could have a laugh, and the students interacted with teachers all day every day.
It wasn’t a case of you do that separately, everybody sort of worked together.
The teachers take the time you need. You know they actively want to help improve your future. It’s not just a case of “we’re teachers, we’re paid to teach”, it’s “we’re humans, we know you, and understand that you’ve got problems and we want to help improve that situation so that other students can learn from you as well as us”. It’s about one group learning to move forward, it’s not a case of “you are a student and i’m here to teach you”. It’s “I’m here to help you, out there”. Their aim is to improve your life so that you’re not stuck in this situation forever.
You know to the staff there it’s more than just a job. It’s what they want to do. They chose to work there. So it’s something they feel passionate about. You are important to them regardless of what your opinion is of them.
I would agree also that the counselling that Red Balloon offer really does help open up ways to speak to people. I really thought the weekly session where we’d go back and talk about the week, circle time, that really helped me sort of open up, because if other people can open up about their week and what they’ve experienced it’s a lot easier for you to.
Everybody sort of understood where people had come from, even though they got obviously different stories that got them into Red Balloon. They’re all based around being through the same stuff, they’ve all had a traumatic experience, or not wanted to go to school because of their experience, and it sort of banded us all together. But even though some of us found it more difficult to talk to others. We all sort of had a general understanding that we’re all very much in the same boat. And I suppose that helped us in a way.
How I coped with the change
With me routine is important. It takes a long time to get used to a new situation. I think the main thing I was worried about was a change to the way things are, because being autistic myself routine is a massive important part of my life.
And I didn’t know what to expect. But once I explained what my insecurities were and my different issues, and what I was comfortable with it was all pretty much dealt with. Mainstream Schools didn’t take time out to talk with me about what my problems and insecurities. But with Red Balloon from the get go I was pretty much supported. I mean I was quite nicely surprised, because when I got there it was all “well this is how it’s fun”, you know everything sort of worked around what you’re comfortable doing.
I fitted in quite quickly and quite well actually because there were a lot of people my own age there at the time. So I made friends quite quickly and I got into the routine of, you know, the new normal.
From the beginning it was all about taking me out of comfort zone and teaching me to deal with difficult situations. Which I’ve always struggled with. If it wasn’t for my experience with Red Balloon I would not be able to cope in day-to-day life.
Finding my voice
If I hadn’t gone through Red Balloon I definitely wouldn’t have become more confident in myself. I mean I’m sharing my story right now because of the confidence I gained throughout the years. I went from not being able to talk to anyone to being able to talk to people, make friends and now I’ve actually got a lifelong partnership. And if I hadn’t have gone to Red Balloon I wouldn’t even be able to talk to anyone let alone girls and all that. I wouldn’t have had my voice if it weren’t for Red Balloon.