Limpsfield Grange School is a Surrey County Council maintained residential Special School for girls aged 11 – 16 years old who have ‘Autism, speech, language and communication difficulties, emotional difficulties and vulnerabilities’. The school recently received an outstanding rating by Ofsted and is believed to be the only ASD specific school for girls in the country. The school’s largest cohort is those with a diagnosis of Autism and this group currently make up over half of the 68-strong student population. Part 1 can be read here.
Over the past 6 months many of the girls have become quite passionate about the rates and timings of diagnosis for girls. When Susan Boyle talked about her late diagnosis in the media, Sarah told us that lots of students remarked that if she had been a boy she would have been diagnosed much earlier and that they were quite cross about this.
Sarah went on to explain that this endless social observing and trying to fit in with everyone else can lead to feelings of isolation, low self-esteem and anxiety.
“Many girls that we encounter live with high and unrelenting levels of anxiety which can be unpredictable and debilitating and, at times, uncontrollable. Such high levels of anxiety can be exhausting for the young person concerned and can have an impact on their families and their mental health.”
The school try and understand how these challenges can impact upon a young person.
Sarah told us:
“We recognize that some days these challenges are manageable and some days they feel unmanageable. We always acknowledge how a young person feels and that their feelings are valid and important. We talk with the girls a great deal and work with them to enable them to identify and label their emotions. Wherever possible we ask them to explain their thoughts and feelings rather than demonstrate how they feel through their behaviour. We wonder out loud about situations to show the girls how a conclusion is arrived at.”
The school also model different approaches to situations and get the girls to feedback on how things work. Sarah told of how many of the girls like to know why something has happened rather than just knowing what to do differently.
“We encourage the girls to talk about their needs and to develop an awareness of the needs of others. We promote kindness and respect for each other and an acceptance that everyone is different and fabulous!”
Sarah was also very vocal in her opinion that the students feel there is an inequality in the way that people on the spectrum are identified.
“Many of our students were diagnosed late, and can very articulately relate their feelings of isolation and panic, knowing that they were different but not knowing why. I would like to see girls identified much earlier so that effective support can be put in place sooner to enable them to live happy and successful lives. In our experience at Limpsfield Grange, all too often girls are not diagnosed until they have reached crisis point and things have started to go badly wrong for them. As a society I believe we can do better than this and we are very keen to work with other professionals and organisations to help make this happen.”
However despite the many difficulties that the girls face Sarah was very keen to point out the many positives and that they are extremely capable of making great progress. The vast majority of students leave Limpsfield Grange with a wide range of GCSEs that enables them to go to college and study courses that they are interested in.
“Our students get jobs and have relationships and lead successful adult lives.”
Sarah ends by saying how very proud she is of her students and the challenges that they have overcome so that they can achieve.
Sarah’s final words were:
“We at Limpsfield Grange believe that it is time that we raised the profile of girls with Autism. We need to promote and celebrate girls on the spectrum, and make sure that people understand that girls with Autism might present differently to boys, but it does not make life less difficult for them.”
We would like to thank Sarah Wild, Headteacher of Limpsfield Grange School for taking the time to chat with us and we wish her and the school every success for the future.