Aspire is Romsey Mill’s work that supports autistic young people in mainstream education; and has been established for almost 20 years.  
In recent years, the need for Romsey Mill’s weekly autism-friendly youth clubs, one-to-one support for autistic young people, and family support has grown in comparison to our capacity.  
Funding awarded from several grant-making bodies in recent months has enabled a growth in the capacity of the team so that more young people who were waiting for spaces can now attend Aspire groups. As a result, overall numbers of young people regularly accessing the weekly youth clubs has risen from 150 to 170. 
Anne* (*not her real name) is a young person who is new to Aspire.  
Sarah Baltensperger One of Aspire’s youth development workers Sarah Baltensperger has supported Anne to begin attending at one of our autism youth clubs. 
Sarah says:

“When I met Anne at the end of the schools’ summer break, to talk about attending an Aspire group, I learned that she was just about to start at a new college and had to prepare to use public transport to get there every day.  
These were big changes for Anne, so she was understandably nervous. So, before she had even started attending an Aspire youth club, I accompanied her on a trial journey from her local train station all the way to her college in central Cambridge.  
A couple of weeks after that, she trialled an evening Aspire youth club with us for the first time.  During her second session, I took her aside to check in with how everything was going at college, with transport, and how she was feeling about the youth club.  
She started to cry and slowly explained how exhausted she is every day because of masking her emotions and behaviour; and how worried she is that people will think that she is weird because of her interests and hobbies.  
Many autistic young people feel this way, so I tried my best to explain that our youth clubs are the perfect place to slowly unmask – that there would be no judgement about what she likes and how she behaves. She slowly calmed down and was able to rejoin the rest of the youth club session – where she discovered that two others were fans of a TV show she loves - one of the interests about which she thought she would feel judged. 
A couple of weeks later, Anne came running back inside after saying goodbye at the end of group, with the biggest smile I have seen on her to date. She came up to me and Tanya, who runs the club with me, and said, “I had a really good time. Thank you. 
Every young person Aspire supports has had to survive and manage in a world that keeps sending the message that they do not quite fit. Aspire gives these young people a space to be themselves, without fear of judgment, a place to belong. And even just a few weeks of having access to such a place makes a real difference in their lives.”

*This young person’s name has been changed