Ruth Watt, Romsey Mill's Aspire Programme Coordinator, talks about the Aspire Plus groups, and how they make a difference to autistic young people and help them to grow friendships as they transition into adulthood.

Times of transition can bring extra challenges for autistic people than for their neurotypical peers. The transition into adulthood is no exception. Aspire Plus is Aspire ‘weekly group for young adults, aged 17-19. It provides consistency and a regular, safe social space throughout the transition into adulthood. This time period for most people involves moving from education, into work or further training. The weekly group sessions area social space where young adults can engage in activities together. It’s an opportunity to practice the social skills needed to step into the next stage with increased confidence.

Aspire Plus group playing pool

In addition, the Aspire Plus group gives autistic young adults the opportunity and support to share interests with others and to create and sustain friendships. This helps to combat the isolation and loneliness that many autistic people experience.

The group has helped me engage with new people and has made me feel less anxious and more sociable“ Aspire young person.

The young people can talk to the staff and volunteers about any worries or challenges that they are facing. Some may prefer not to speak to their family about certain matters, but don’t have a support network outside of the home, so being able to have open discussions with youth workers is vital. If more time to chat is needed, staff arrange a one-to-one meeting outside of the weekly youth club session to allow for more focused time and support.

“The staff go above and beyond to make everyone feel included and safe. My son came back beaming with confidence after his last one to one with the youth worker. He had been really struggling beforehand but came out laughing and like a weight was lifted from his shoulders”   Aspire parent

The demand for places for the Aspire Plus group continues to grow. As the only Aspire group working with this age range, all our other groups and locations feed into it – north and south Cambridge; Cambourne; and Linton. As the provision grows in all our locations, the numbers filtering up to Aspire Plus are therefore also growing. Currently we have around 35 young people accessing the Aspire Plus session. Larger groups can be difficult for autistic people to manage, so we have created two smaller groups within a single Aspire Plus group– one for quieter activities such as card games and crafts; and a larger one for activities such as sport, table tennis and pool. This has allowed us to help more individual people overall.

We do still have a waiting list for this age group. However, we are always exploring options for expanding this work to support more autistic young adults.

“It gives me something to look forward to every week as well as a reason to keep going in the really hard times “   Aspire young person

150 young people are supported by Aspire – 35 of those are in Aspire Plus

60+ young people are currently on our waiting list

We have 12 groups running weekly

98% of young people enjoy attending Aspire

99% of Aspire parents say that the support of Romsey Mill helps improve their child's well being