The Bigger Picture is a programme aimed at young people on the autism spectrum who may be at risk of becoming socially isolated when leaving school.  The programme provides person-centred, individually tailored plans for groups of young people in a way that provides an empowering and supportive process to assist them and their families/carers in planning and actively moving forward in their lives.


The aim is to gather young people and their families together to plan for a successful life after school.  Each young person can invite who they would like to help them with this; parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends.  They can ask any professionals they think might be able to help – but they are in control of who comes to support them and who joins their “core support team”


Then over a number of meetings each young person develops a clearly defined plan and steps for what they would like to do in their life when they have left school and the steps needed to achieve this.


The concept of the programme is that the young person is supported through the school transition period with the assistance of their core support team under the guidance of the Shirlie Project.  The aim is for this support to be in place for the long term thus reducing the stress for immediate family members and increasing independence and personal identity of the young person.


The Bigger Picture programme allows young people to take greater control of their future and put in place a plan encouraging them to move forward and have some independence in their life.  This programme is also designed to support family members and/or carers of the young person and help to alleviate their stress and concerns for the future.


The Bigger Picture programme puts the young person at the heart of the process to plan their own future.  The young person will not only have a plan/direction but they will be actively moving forward with the support initially from the Shirlie Project and longer term from their Core Support Team.


This process will help to build networks and empower communities with a culture of valuing people on the spectrum to have personal ambitions and provide positive support to achieve them.


During our first year of funding the Bigger Picture programme was delivered to 9 schools supporting 22 young people to develop their plans and put in place their support networks.


One example of this is Liam

Liam was about to leave secondary school and was extremely anxious about what is available to him in ways to support his future dreams and aspirations. He lives at home with his Mum and younger sister. Liam is on the spectrum and also is dyslexic and although he can write, each word needs to be spelled out to him to enable him to complete his writing tasks. He struggles with reading quite considerably and a scribe allowed him to complete work & exams in school. Liam also struggled communicating and engaging with teachers and external support services.

Routine is imperative to Liam and he is currently working on independent travel and still needs the support of services to let this continue.

There was no awareness of what is available to Liam for when school is over.


Key issues for Liam’s transition are:

–          Support was put in place to build his confidence and enable Liam to travel independently

–          We have explored options of other support structures including Activity Agreements for life after school

–          Continuation of learning through Adult Basic Education in regards to reading, writing and mathematics

–          The creation of an individually tailored I Plan to look at dreams and aspirations for future life.


Liam’s bright future

Liam is now much more confident about his future when he leaves school.  Liam’s mum and learning support teacher in school have noticed a significant improvement in his communication skills and he is now much more comfortable and confidence in speaking to others.  In fact he recently joined the Shirlie Project at Transitions Forum in Edinburgh and spoke briefly about his experiences with the Bigger Picture.


He has secured a full time place on a professional cooking course at college, where he starts in August and hopes to begin a career in a bakery.


They know their support network is in place and that that if needed the Shirlie Project can offer further help.


Visit the Shirlie Project website at for more details and contact information