Aspire Programme

Shannon's Story


 “At first, I was very strongly encouraged to attend an Aspire group by a family worker, and my parents: I was quite scared to go along – I didn’t know what it was going to be like, and I hadn’t been along to a group like Aspire before. When I first tried Aspire, I was withdrawn, and I found it really hard to be around the other members of the group”.

“I wasn’t really leaving the house, and I wasn’t talking to anyone out of the home. By the time I started Aspire, I was refusing to go to school, so I was very isolated, and my mental health had deteriorated”.


Shannon’s anxieties made it very difficult to engage in mainstream education, and she eventually dropped out in year 10.

“One of my anxieties is around planes: if I hear one going overhead, I need to go to a window and watch it disappear because I’m so afraid that it will crash or explode. This made it very difficult to be in a classroom environment, and I ended up refusing to go to school.

My anxieties had grown to the extent that I wasn’t really able to engage with other people. I had a terrible attitude, and home was very stressful – I was almost abusive towards my family and parents. This was so different from the kid that I had been while I was growing up – the mix of anxiety, fear and anger completely changed the way that I acted towards people”.


Although starting Aspire was scary for Shannon, she started coming along to groups, and meeting up 1-1 with one of our workers.

“Aspire is a place to just come and hang out. It’s safe, and I can be myself. I’ve made some great friends here, and I get to come and sit and draw, and talk to people – where I wouldn’t be doing anything like that on my own.

The Aspire Plus residential was a really great experience for me: I never would have thought that I would have the confidence to go away for the weekend with a group of friends like that, but it was amazing – we had a really fun day out at the beach. One of my key interests has been learning how to do one of the arcade machines really well, so I was able to get the jackpot every time!”

(Shannon spent some time on one of the machines in the arcade, where she was able to win the jackpot repeatedly; and then used her tokens to use gifts for other members of the group).

We asked Shannon how Aspire has helped her over the years:

“I’m a completely different person now – I still struggle with anxiety, but the fear and anger that I had when I was struggling with school has completely gone. I go out a lot more and I even go out by myself. I’ve got a lot more friends that aren’t online, and I’m so much more comfortable with who I am.

I’ve started volunteering at a cats’ home in Cambridge, which gets me out of the house, and has really helped with my confidence. I would like to go on to study something around animals – I dropped out of school and was never able to go to sixth form, but this is something that I know I would be able to do now.

I like going to pubs – I started by going to a pub with my Granddad, but I have my own friends there now. Its very safe, and I feel very safe and confident there. Before, I wasn’t able to deal with loud music; but I love going to the pub to listen to the band play, and join in with the crowd.

I also really love drawing: I’ve become a lot more able, developed a skill, gained confidence and now I’m taking commissions. I was able to create some art for the landlord at the pub, and give it to him face-to-face: a real achievement for me”.


Shannon: if there is one thing you could tell people about autism, what would it be?

“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism: we’re all completely different. Aspire has spotted that, and they’ve given us a place where we can really be ourselves”.