Life Stories

Life stories

Welcome to the life stories zone.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel like you are the only one going through a tough time. But in reality, that’s not the case.

That’s why we have pulled together a selection of real-life stories and others’ experiences here. Hear from the SEND community.

If you would like to share your own story or have something to say to other parents, it’s easy. Just email us!

Scott talking about the transition process

Navigating transition, my account.

In this video, Scott talks about his experiences of navigating transition – what was tricky, what …

Navigating transition, my account.

Scott talking about the transition process

In this video, Scott talks about his experiences of navigating transition – what was tricky, what worked and what he’s doing now.

Ben Lloyd National star

Star of the airwaves

National Star student, Ben Lloyd turned DJ on a local community radio station to share his love of m…

Star of the airwaves

Ben Lloyd National star

National Star student, Ben Lloyd turned DJ on a local community radio station to share his love of music.

Ben, a student at National Star in Hereford, always fully participates in occupational therapy-led dance sessions at college, often picking up a guitar to play along with the songs.

So it’s no surprise that he jumped at the chance of presenting his own 30-minute show on new community radio station Bromyard FM (bfmradio.uk).

Since its launch in March, listeners to Bromyard FM have grown immensely, with the station adding new presenters and slots dedicated to a wide variety of music genres.

The musical Grease is one of Ben’s favourite albums and so he chose to play songs from the film during his time on air. He prepared his set list in advance and how he wanted to announce the songs.

After the show Ben said, ‘It was amazing and fun. It made me feel happy! I loved the music and the chat, I was cool and not nervous. Paul was really funny. I hope it helps me with music in the future.’

Presenter Paul Geoghegan said, ‘Everyone involved in BFM Radio was blown away by Ben’s enthusiasm and commitment to sharing the music that he loves. His passion for Grease was infectious. We had lots of positive feedback on our Facebook chat group during the show and messages about Ben for days afterwards too – he made a very positive impression on our listeners.’

Discover more about becoming a student at National Star in Hereford here. 

Ed on his delivery

National Star College helps student land his dream job

National Star College helped Ed Scipio transform into a confident young man. What’s more, Ed h…

National Star College helps student land his dream job

Ed on his delivery

National Star College helped Ed Scipio transform into a confident young man. What’s more, Ed has gone on to secure a job in his hometown.

When Ed started as a residential student at National Star College in Gloucestershire, he wouldn’t speak up for himself and was nervous about trying anything new. He had never even spent a night away from his mum.

Not only did he achieve qualifications in his Work Outcome programme, but he was elected Student Union President and received a Silver Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award and a Gold Achievement DofE.

Since leaving National Star in July, Ed has landed himself a job delivering meat three days a week for Devizes butcher, Walter Rose & Sons. With a customised wagon on the back of his power wheelchair, Ed has become a popular sight around town.

‘We’ve known Ed for a while and when he finished college we decided to get him in to work by helping with deliveries around town,’ says Jack Cook, from Walter Rose & Sons. ‘He’s made a real difference to the business and everyone around town knows him.’

Ed was born premature at 24 weeks. He spent a great deal of his first seven years of life in hospital. He has cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.

While at National Star, the occupational therapy team worked with Ed and his chair driving skills. He also accessed aquatic therapy and physiotherapy to develop his strength.

Ed hopes to move eventually into supported living.

‘National Star helped me get a job that I love and gave me independence,’ says Ed.


National Star College is a specialist independent college for people with physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries and associated learning difficulties located in Gloucestershire.

emily at work

Emily’s story: from college to paid employment…

On completion of her Hospitality programme at Queen Alexandra College (QAC), former residential stud…

Emily’s story: from college to paid employment…

emily at work

On completion of her Hospitality programme at Queen Alexandra College (QAC), former residential student, Emily successfully entered paid employment at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

The College provided the support that Emily needed. It also offered her the opportunity to complete an external work placement with The Birmingham Repertory Theatre as part of her course. Initially, the work placement was over a three-month period, but it went so well Emily’s placement converted to paid employment.

Rather than return to the family home, Emily also progressed onto QAC’s supported living option, Independence Plus. As a residential student, the College’s 24-hour curriculum helped Emily develop her independent living and social skills. Independence Plus has allowed Emily to continue to develop this independence.

raana salman

My Ordinary Life

A short film from Raana Salman on what makes an ‘ordinary life’ if you have a learning disability.

My Ordinary Life

raana salman

Pizza, public transport, parties. Saba Salman’s sister Raana on what makes an ‘ordinary life’ if you have a learning disability (clue: it’s not that different to anyone else’s ordinary life).

This short film was made with the support of Raana’s support worker and first shown at a conference run by campaigning charity Stay Up Late in 2019.

Actress Sarah Gordy

Made Possible, stories of success by people with learning disabilities in their own words

Actor Sarah Gordy, campaigner Shaun Webster and singer Lizzie Emeh describe their lives in the book …

Made Possible, stories of success by people with learning disabilities in their own words

Actress Sarah Gordy

Actor Sarah Gordy, campaigner Shaun Webster and singer Lizzie Emeh describe their lives in the book ‘Made Possible, stories of success by people with learning disabilities – in their own words.’

Their words challenge stereotypes about learning disability and argue for equality.

‘Made Possible’ is edited by Saba Salman and published by Unbound. You can read our interview wit Saba about the book here

Orchard House logo

Salutem Case Study: Orchard House, Bedford

A case study from Salutem about how they supported one young man to lead a happier and more fulfilli…

Salutem Case Study: Orchard House, Bedford

Orchard House logo

Salutem’s objective is to become the leading provider of care, education and support for disabled people and for people with learning disabilities and complex needs.

Here, they share how they supported one young man to lead a happier and more fulfilling life.

We had a young man come to us with serious issues with aggression and destructive behaviour as he didn’t know how to process his anger. He didn’t have a good relationship with his family and was very withdrawn when it came to interacting with others. He stayed with us at Orchard House for four years.

We we worked with him to pinpoint what made him angry or caused him to become aggressive, and then tried to find new outlets for these emotions. As he was non-verbal, we spent time learning how to use communication aids so that he could constructively communicate his emotions, wants and needs both with us, and others. Over time, he settled really well into his home and created positive relationships with all the staff.

A place to call home

At Orchard House, we provided him with a secure and safe home environment where he could grow and progress in life. When it came to the point that he was moving into adult care, we wanted to ensure we created as smooth a transition as possible into a home that would provide him with exactly the same kind of personal and high quality care. It was also important to us that he stayed close to his family who he had built a great new relationship with while with us, and that his new home would fully understand his needs and continue the learning and development that we had started with him.

A smooth transition

That’s why we transferred him to one of Salutem’s adult care services that was close to his parents and family. Furthermore, as it was one of our own services, this meant we could still engage with him and work together between homes to keep up the good progress he had been making.

We were able to move everything that made him comfortable at his children’s home to his new adult home and ensured a simple, smooth and positive transitional care experience.


Salutem provide a range of learning disability services, physical disability services, children’s services, education services, mental health and autism services. Find out more about them here.

Katie Callaghan meets Prince William

Katie Callaghan: My education journey

18 year old Katie had to juggle education and hospital for a number of years, here she shares her ed…

Katie Callaghan: My education journey

Katie Callaghan meets Prince William

18 year old Katie has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome with multiple comorbidities. She had to juggle education with hospital for a number of years and has gone on to further education.

Here, she talks about her education journey and shares advice for other young people who may be in a similar situation.

Amanda, woodrow house resident

Amanda’s story: Journey to independence

Amanda, a resident at Woodrow House shares her story on how the team at Woodrow House have helped he…

Amanda’s story: Journey to independence

Amanda, woodrow house resident

Amanda, a resident at Woodrow House shares her story on how the team at Woodrow House have helped her gain her independence following a long period in a hospital setting.

This video includes interviews with Amanda and members of the staff team.


Woodrow House is part of the Cygnet Healthcare group. It is a community specialist residential home for adults with learning disabilities, who may have behaviours that challenge and associated complex needs.

Aoife Cassan

Autism is part of who I am

Aoife Casson shares her personal journey from struggling to receive a diagnosis, to learning how to …

Autism is part of who I am

Aoife Cassan

Starting school, securing your first job, and accepting who you are present a challenge for most people.

Here, Aoife Casson shares her personal journey from struggling to receive a diagnosis, to learning how to accept that her autism is part of her unique identity.

Early life

Growing up, I had a lot of trouble making friends. I was bullied a lot and people called me weird, but in my eyes, they were the weird ones! Why would you want to play make-believe and dress up when you could watch a bit of David Attenborough and line your toys up in size order? It never made sense to me.

As I got older, the ‘weird’ label hung around and the bullying persisted. I was made to feel like I was involved with the banter, but somehow, I was always the subject of their jokes. I tried to fit in the only way I knew how – by mimicking their behaviours. I started wearing jeans even though I hate denim and I made the same jokes as they did. But for some reason, I always messed up. They’d say: ‘Oh my god, how can you do that?!’ ‘Do what?’, I would respond. ‘You know what we mean!’, they would shout back.

I didn’t.

It was a running joke in my year that I was terrible at spelling. I couldn’t do sports to save my life and I was a lost cause at languages. Even in subjects where I excelled (like maths), I was put in a lower set as I couldn’t keep up with the writing.

By the time I was doing my GCSEs and A-Levels, I’d been diagnosed with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and dysgraphia. Mrs Green, my learning support teacher, was an absolute gem. My weekly half-hour session with her was a safe space where I could unload what was on my mind without judgement. She taught me valuable skills like time management and organisation, but in a way that made sense to me. She also fought tirelessly to get me the support and extra time I needed in my exams. Thanks to her, I was able to get the grades I deserved.

Learning how to be happy

When I was 18, I tried to get myself diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. For a long time, Mum and I thought this is what I had. Despite the doctors at the Maudsley acknowledging that I had difficulty communicating, they diagnosed me with Atypical Autism based on what I had told them. They even went on to explain that had they gone entirely off what my mum had told them, they would have diagnosed me with Asperger’s. I was gutted. I didn’t have the confidence at the time to say they were wrong, and I was never able to get through to them via email after that day. The following years were filled with confusion, anxiety, and overwhelm. However, with the incredible support from my University friends, I learned how to be happy. How to be me. I learned my triggers and my social limits. I learned to recognise when my ‘cope’o’meter’ was maxing out. I didn’t enjoy those years, but it’s thanks to them that I’m so happy and confident now.

During my illustration degree, I realised I wanted to be a travel writer. I’d written a few blogs for my University while spending a semester studying abroad in Japan and they were received really well.

And that’s when I had a lightbulb moment.

I wasn’t terrible at writing, I just struggled with essays. I wasn’t a failure at languages, I just needed to find a language that I loved and a learning style that was right for me. It all made sense! I was destined to be a travel writer and live in Japan. I knew it would take a while to get to that point so I started applying for jobs in the UK that would help me get there.

The world of work

I remember applying for a content writer job at a recipe box company. I got down to the final interview when I accidentally let slip that I was dyslexic. Despite having done several grammatically perfect writing tasks, I was turned down because I was “lacking in confidence with spelling and grammar”. I knew it was just their way of saying “we don’t want a dyslexic person here” – I was so upset. I didn’t mind losing the job, but the fact that they turned me down based on a misconception that wasn’t an accurate depiction of me really hurt. How could they not look past all that and see that my writing was great?

Four months later, I was offered a 12-week temp job at Alzheimer’s Research UK. On day one of my new job, I was determined to be open about my Asperger’s and learning difficulties. I was prepared to defend myself until I was blue in the face. But I didn’t need to. When I told my manager that I had Asperger’s she said: ‘Thank you for sharing that with me, is there anything I can do to better support you?’. She then encouraged me to write a blog for the intranet to educate people about ASD and I jumped at the opportunity. Again, I expected to be met with judgement and awkward silences. Instead, I was bombarded with love and acceptance.

A year and a half later and I’m still working at Alzheimer’s Research UK. They allowed me to work four days a week instead of five so that I don’t get too tired every week. The most wonderful thing is that my Asperger’s isn’t seen as a hindrance by my colleagues, but part of what makes me who I am. The people I work with appreciate my unique point of view and know they can come back to me for honest and measured feedback. I still find a lot of things difficult and draining, but I feel so supported in everything I do. And the crazy thing? In my last progress review, my team said that my top two skills were empathy and content writing, the two things I’ve struggled with for most of my life! Who’d have thought?

In my free time, I make crafts and sell them in my Etsy shop. In pre-COVID times, I would often have a stand at my local Christmas Market, and I’m now part of a community of makers. I’m still learning Japanese at my own pace and I am absolutely loving it. Most importantly, I have a wonderful group of friends who love me for who I am.

Aoife’s tips for young people with autism

So what advice would I give to my unhappy and confused teenage self?

  1. Being weird is wonderful and the people who can’t see that don’t deserve you in their lives.
  2. Follow what you love! And don’t listen to anyone who says your disability means you can’t. They just lack creativity.
  3. It’s ok to move at your own pace. The plants that take the longest to grow end up being the biggest and most beautiful trees in the forest.
  4. Go your own way. So many things we take for granted today didn’t even exist ten years ago. Just because something isn’t possible today, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it tomorrow.
  5. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. You were born different. While that may make some things more challenging, it will also make you more creative, interesting, and accepting of others.

Aoife’s recommended social media accounts to follow: