Mark* (not his real name) is an autistic young person who has been supported through our Aspire programme for many years.

Mark's mum wanted to share his story.

She writes:

"My son Mark* has learnt to deftly mask his autism and present as someone that ‘fits in’. How sad is it, that we live in a world where someone with an unseen disability feels like they can’t just be themselves.

From an early age, I have witnessed the impact that has had on Mark - how frustrated he feels, how absolutely exhausted he is after any length of time where he hasn’t been able to be himself.  In addition to this, there are the long-term effects – the reduced ability to engage with school, groups, recreational activities and how that affects his self-esteem. 

I have also found that, although I am not someone who shies away from asking for help, Mark’s ability to mask his differences has meant that I have found it hard to enable some professionals to understand the challenges Mark experiences and the impact that has on us as a family.

From the time that Ruth, the Aspire Coordinator, first visited our home we all felt comfortable with her. She was friendly and engaging; she didn’t push Mark, she just gave us the information and the opportunity to try, if we wanted to. 

That was back when Mark was in year 8 – he’s in year 13 now and continues to be a member of Aspire. Before Aspire, Mark had tried a multitude of different clubs, groups and hobbies, but had been unable to stick with any of them. Romsey Mill’s Aspire was different.

There was no expectation for Mark to be anything other than what he was that day.  

Romsey Mill’s Aspire offered Mark a place where he could just ‘be’. He often comes out quite calm, and I think that’s because he hasn’t had to hold himself together by being something he’s not. His relationship with Thomas, one of the Youth Development Workers who runs the session, has been so important during this time. Thomas has built a trusting relationship with Mark, he has offered friendly support and guidance; he has been able to engage with Mark on his level, giving him positive reassurance, affirmations, and praise.

This has made a massive difference to Mark’s self-esteem.

Thomas encouraged Mark to pursue his interests in music, offering him some one-to-one music sessions, which Mark has really loved going to. Thomas’s sessions with Mark have helped him to recognise that music is something he is good at. 

Ruth has also facilitated Mark securing some part-time volunteering at the Romsey Mill Charity Shop.

I can’t tell you enough what a difference this has made to Mark.  He feels valued, worthy, trusted, and important, and the shop has become another place where he feels like he can be himself.  I am so pleased that, in addition, this opportunity is providing Mark with the chance to develop other skills that will be helpful for when he is looking for paid employment.  

Throughout Mark’s time with Aspire, Thomas has maintained communication with me and kept up-to-date with what is going on with our family.  In this way he has been able to gently approach some of the more tricky aspects that we have faced with Mark, offering a different perspective that Mark is willing to hear out because it’s coming from Thomas.

Additionally, for me, Thomas has provided a constant reassuring ear, helping me to reflect on some of the challenging situations, unpick my own actions and work out how I might do it differently the next time.  I can be very critical of myself, as I feel society can, so to hear someone independent reflecting back to me the things I have got right has been, at times, saving for me. 

There is something really empowering about being able to be alongside someone, doing ‘with’ rather than doing ‘to’ - that’s what I feel Ruth and Thomas give to us.  A friendly, reassuring constant in this autism journey that we are navigating.  Not telling us what to do or how to feel, but helping us to work through the challenging times and celebrate the good times.

They’ve listened, reassured, mopped up tears, mine and Mark’s, and helped me to find the strength and resilience to keep on keeping on, even on the days where I’ve felt exhausted and defeated. 

Aspire gives us so much as a family, helping with what we need, not what they think we need, or what another professional has suggested we need. They walk with us on our journey, showing us how much they care about helping to get the best outcomes possible for Mark. 

I can’t think of another organisation that I would rather have alongside me!" 

*Name of young person has been changed