A story of growth and success

Adam Ashley is a former student at I CAN’s Dawn House School. Since leaving, Adam has achieved academically, developed a successful career,  and lived life to the full (including winning the FA People’s Cup). We ask him about the different transitions he’s had to make and what helped him through.

What was life like before Dawn House School?
It wasn’t great. I didn’t go out much, rarely left the house. In fact I spent most of my time playing video games and eating a lot. By the time I went to Dawn House, I was about 16. Although I was technically registered at a mainstream school, I rarely attended and was home-schooled instead. I was absolutely fine at primary school; in fact, I had 100% attendance almost every year.

What was the difference for you between primary and secondary?
Well at the time I had no diagnosis, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t settle in; I just couldn’t handle the larger class sizes. From what I know now about Asperger’s Syndrome, I can look back and say that I found it difficult being in larger rooms with regularly changing classrooms and a lot of people who I didn’t know. This really fed into my social anxiety.
Although I never really went out, I still held onto some friendships from primary school and hung out with my brother and his friends as he was only a year older. I used to communicate mostly on social media and messenger services, which kind of replaced the need to socialise in real life.

When were you diagnosed and how did it change things for you?
I was 14 when I had my diagnosis. My school started offering me a lot more support, as they get a lot more funding for my provision. However, the support itself wasn’t really appropriate; I ended up having to work with the naughty children who had been excluded from our school and others, which I didn’t really enjoy. That’s how I ended up with a home tutor.

How did you get from there to Dawn House?
Because of my diagnosis I got a statement of SEN and so we started looking for a specialist school that would be appropriate for me. After looking at a couple of other schools, I was pointed in the direction of Dawn House.
Typically people with Asperger’s struggle more in social situations, making eye contact and understanding other people’s communications. It’s really difficult to understand tone of voice, things like sarcasm can be hard to pick up, for example. So I was sent to Dawn House so I could learn the skills I needed to improve my communication skills.

What do you remember about starting at Dawn House?
I weighed something like 17.5 stone when I started at Dawn House. I was very depressed. Like the old saying goes. “I was fat because I was eating and was eating because I was fat”, I was stuck in a vicious cycle. Because of my weight, I never wanted to go out and be social. When I started going to Dawn House, it was quite difficult at first as I found it hard to get out of bed. My attendance was sketchy at the start as I refused to go into school.
I was on anti-depressants at the time, which made me feel like a zombie to be honest. It was like I had no emotions. Typically people with Asperger’s aren’t very good at expressing emotions, and I felt the anti-depressants were suppressing my emotions even more.
It came to a head when my granddad passed away and sadly at the time I felt nothing, which I didn’t think was right as I was close to him. At that point I decided I was going to come off the anti-depressants and change my life.

How did you start to change your life?
Well my attendance at Dawn House improved, I started going to school every day. I changed my diet, eating healthily and found time to exercise every day. I was losing weight which massively helped with my self-esteem. I think I lost about 2 stone in about 3 months, and continued to lose weight. As I started to enjoy school, I started performing better too.
Everything was really good until it got to the GCSE time, where I went through a really difficult patch. I found it hard to cope with the pressure of the exams. Dawn House made the decision to let me choose which exams I wanted to take, and the school worked with me to pick just a few subjects to do.

How did that work out?
It worked out quite well actually, I ended up taking just Science and PE GCSE at that point. After that I went to the FE department in Dawn House, where I studied my English and Maths GCSE, did a level 2 in literacy and numeracy. I also did an NVQ in Sport at Portland College, which is a specialist disability college in Mansfield.
I ended splitting my study time, half at Dawn House sixth form and half at Portland College, where I was completing my NVQ. This flexibility was what I needed. At that time I was more engaged in sport, and carried on losing weight which was great for my confidence. I ended up having an incredible experience, going on a Sport England road trip, supporting the two staff who worked in the sport department, delivering disability sport across the country to mainstream schools, colleges and universities, to educate teachers to deliver inclusive sports. I was really chucked in the deep end. What tended to happen was the teachers were delivering presentations to staff, whilst I had to deliver a lesson in sport to all the kids. I was really encouraged to push myself to my limits.
There were a few of us from Dawn House who went on to study sports courses at Portland College, and it seemed like the sports departments in Portland College and Dawn House School worked closely together. I had two teachers, one from each other schools, who worked closely together through me.

What was it like to leave Dawn House?
It was a really stressful time actually, because I was concluding my studies at Dawn House and Portland College at the same time. I was wondering what would happened next, I didn’t feel like I was ready for work at that point. Portland College offered me a role as a learning support assistant in the sports department. Initially I was going for a zero-hours contract, but by the time I had the interview they offered me a full-time contract instead, which was brilliant.
Dawn House opened the door for me in so many ways. Not only did they find me the place at Portland College, the teachers there ended up having a lot of involvement in my life. Ms Allen in particular was fantastic, if it wasn’t for her I don’t know what I would be doing now.
Dawn House provided me support with speech and language therapists, interviewing techniques, as well as helping me through my studies in subjects that I needed for employment.
They always worked with a person-centred approach and understood my level and ability was different to other students. They helped me based on my needs, rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
I could never thank them enough.

Adam left Dawn House when he was 19. Since then he has had the confidence to move through different roles supporting those with behavioural issues. He has worked in adult support, mental health and autism, developing his skills and gaining experience. At the age of 22, Adam was in the position to be able to move in with his partner, buy his own car and take regular holidays to travel.
Despite some difficulties, including relationship breakdowns and periods of uncertainty, Adam has managed to pick himself up and cope with life’s challenges, searching out opportunities to grow, learn and develop. Now at 24 he has just started a role as a senior support worker at a children’s care home, where he has ambitions to become a senior manager.
His mantra, is that you have to take chances and push yourself. Now a huge sports advocate and enthusiast, Adam is an FA People’s Cup winner. 

Portland College Cup Winners

Portland College celebrate FA People’s Cup win

You can watch the highlights of the final here, which included Adam scoring a vital last minute equaliser, taking Portland College through to the penalty shoot-out.

Find out more about Dawn House by visiting their website: