Hillpark Autism Unit is an integrated unit in Hillpark Secondary School in Glasgow, where young people on the autism spectrum are supported to access mainstream education and fully integrated in the school.
Hillpark Autism Unit also provides an outreach service, not just to mainstream pupils on the autism spectrum within Hillpark, but supports teachers in other Glasgow schools to work more effectively with young people on the autism spectrum. We asked the school to tell us about the support the Buddies provide and heard from some of the pupils involved.
One of our assets is our well established Buddy Network co-ordinated by Julie MacRae (pictured below right with the Buddies’ Autism Champions certificate). Pupils in our 5th and 6th year volunteer to become buddies to pupils on the autism spectrum. Anyone who is interested can become involved and there is no selection process! The thinking behind this is that the more people who learn about autism the better! The buddies will bring greater awareness and understanding to wherever they go after they leave school!
The buddy network teacher co-ordinator, Julie MacRae, runs training workshops at the start of the school session after school. In these, the potential buddies learn about the nature of a spectrum of human behaviour and relate this to themselves in areas such as shyness, organisational ability, sociability etc. The aim of understanding a spectrum of human behaviour is to get the young people to identify that people with autism are not separate from them, do not meet a stereotypical list of behaviours and are diverse in personality. We then try to get the buddies to view things from an autistic perspective and understand different thinking.
The buddies learn about the difficulties young people with autism may encounter. Learning to see situations from an autistic perspective helps the buddies understand how they can help. It is important that buddies are aware of the need for sensitivity and confidentiality. Developing trust especially with young people who experience a lack of connection with others or have been bullied is essential to being a good support. Many of the buddies have already established friendships with pupils with autism and others develop these. Buddies support pupils academically through helping with homework and understanding of aspects of their coursework.
Buddies are role models to pupils and can model age appropriate behaviour more effectively than adults. They can offer advice on social issues which affect young people. An area where they are invaluable is peer relationships. They foster an ethos of belonging to, not just the supportive community in the unit, but the wider school. Buddies look out for pupils in the mainstream school environment and can report issues which are not always be recognised by staff members.
Buddies are particularly helpful with negotiating social networking safely. Many pupils with autism are very able in using technology but can leave themselves vulnerable in the virtual world.
The friendships and trust built up between buddies and young people with autism transcends the merely supportive role and enhances the strong sense of community in Hillpark Autism Unit.
The buddies benefit by being able to include their experience in their personal statements for further and higher education, job applications, references etc. Some of our buddies have been able to use their school buddying to enable them to volunteer to work with groups with support needs.
Our buddies all received Diana Awards in 2013!
Most of all, all of our buddies report how much they have gained personally…
“Being a buddy has given me so much insight into what being on the autism spectrum means and has given me the chance and become more knowledgeable and understanding of and encouraging to others I will meet in my life beyond school.”
“Having the opportunity to be a buddy has introduced me to so many great people who I probably wouldn’t have been able to get to know so well if I hadn’t got involved.”
Lastly a word from the pupils…
“The buddies helped me well with social skills. Classes were better when they were there because it was much more fun and they understood the kind of difficulties I had when I came to secondary school. The buddies can explain how the school works and how to get on with people. I would like to be a buddy when I am older because I like helping people and the buddies certainly helped me. It is good to have older friends in the school because it helped me to feel more part of the school when I first came here.”
“Me and one of the buddies became very close and she offered to take me out for days out at the weekend. I also became very friendly with buddies who chatted to me at lunchtimes and helped me with homework. They helped me when I felt sad and were very understanding. When I had things worrying me, the buddies really helped by speaking to me about these and making me think more positively. It’s good to have the buddies!”
“The buddies were nice. They helped me understand in class more easily. When we were talking in self and social awareness classes, they shared things that had been difficult for them and how they overcame these. This was really helpful and it is good to have older friends in school who can look out for you.”
“Knowing that other pupils have experienced lots of the same kind of worries and difficulties helps pupils with autism feel less separate and confused.”
Autism Network Scotland would like to congratulate our new Autism Partnership Champions!