I find it so rewarding being able to use strategies I have been taught for myself to pass on to the children I work with.
Foundation Degree in Early Years and BA (top-up) in Early Childhood Studies at Solihull College and University Centre
Leah pictured above, centre, with two of her tutors.
My experience in education before college wasn’t the best. I struggled to focus in lessons, and as I got older, I started to get in trouble for little things, like talking too much, not following instructions, distracting others and just refusing to follow simple school rules. At the time, no-one realised I had ADHD and Aspergers, and I missed a lot of learning by being kept out of the classroom.
My family life has always been quite challenging for me – family members spent time in prison, so we often had visits from the police to our house, and my parents’ relationship wasn’t stable either. I was the quiet one who didn’t talk much, so was seen as no trouble, whereas actually I was struggling in my own way. This made me realise how disabilities are hidden unless you are trained in what to look for, and that’s something I now bear in mind working with young people.
I was 19 when I was first made homeless, but as I was studying Early Years at Solihull College, they found student accommodation for me, and I stayed there for 3 years. It took a while to adjust, but some of the other residents really helped me and made me realise I wasn’t on my own.
Studying at college was also challenging. I was not confident when applying and was very anxious starting in a new class in whole new environment, but the ‘settle in’ days were a big help and I met some lovely tutors who were great at making me feel comfortable. I did struggle to adapt to college life, including learning the boundaries, but some of my tutors really saw the good in me and made me realise I could achieve what I have today.
Before my diagnosis I found it difficult to be told to sit still and focus when you really can’t, especially when your anxiety is shaking inside you. Once I got my diagnosis for ADHD and (eight months later) for Aspergers, I was grateful for some amazing tutors who really helped me understand my condition and accept it as a positive strength. It took a while for me to accept myself for how I am, but my diagnosis helped the teaching staff to understand me, which had a positive impact on my learning.
I had to start on Level 1 at Solihull College due to concerns highlighted in my school report. I was told by some people around me I would never even reach Level 3, but this made me more determined. I had to prove myself at each stage, but once I completed Level 3, it wasn’t hard to decide to go on to do the Foundation Degree in Early Years. I enjoyed the routine of learning, I loved the teaching staff, I felt understood at last, and I was ready to be finally pushed academically. Once I completed Level 5, I knew I was going all the way to do the Level 6 Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Studies.
However, during my degree I was made homeless again due to demolition of my accommodation, I was left on my own, refused help from many different services. I was told to quit my education to get support and a home. I was not giving up the last year of my degree when I had come so far, resulting in my own health being affected. This was extremely hard for me, not knowing when and where I would be able to call a place home, I really struggled moving around until I was given the right support to enable me to settle down and complete my education.
On my graduation day, most people feel proud for completing the degree, I felt proud for different reasons, it was nice to look back and realise how far I had come reflecting on many things I had to overcome throughout my life. All I needed was my own strength to prove people wrong and some tutors fighting my corner, luckily I had both!
On my degree, I did my placement at the same school for 2 years. With some encouragement, I applied for a permanent job as a play-leader at a new school, and was successful. After a year, I was approached for a job as a Learning Support Assistant (LSA), which was a lovely confidence boost. I work full time with specific children - in the morning I work in Year 1 and in the afternoon I work in Reception. I also work as a play-leader at lunch time and at the after school club two nights a week.
My job can get very tiring, but I find it so rewarding being able to use strategies I have been taught for myself to pass on to the children I work with, to support them the same way I was supported. I love building a strong relationship with the children I work with, seeing them engage and progress in their learning then building their own friendships in the classroom.
My advice for others would be to never give up. If people don’t believe in you, make them see they are wrong - help them understand you better. There are people around you that will understand - it only takes one person to make the difference. Never think you are not good enough - challenges come around all the time, but it’s you that chooses whether to get back up and carry on.