Thornhill Park School

Thornhill Park School is an independent specialist school based in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear for pupils aged 4-19

Our mission is to work together inspiring, supporting, celebrating and equipping autistic and neurodiverse children, young people and adults.

“I never thought I would have a good life. Why would I?”

Expelled from school, stressed and self-harming, teenager Lauren Stephens wondered what her future held, but a switch in education to the North East Autism Society’s Thornhill Park School and later to the North East Centre for Autism in Newton Aycliffe, has opened up a world of opportunities for the County Durham student.

“I just hated school,” says Lauren, now 20-years-old and studying Hospitality and Catering at New College in Durham. “I experienced bullying and was just so alone. I would sit on my own, every day, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to work… I did! But it was hard to be understood.”

After beginning her education in mainstream schooling Lauren was then given a place at a Special Education secondary school.

“I eventually got a diagnosis of autism when I was 11 or 12. I had been finding life just really hard. I would get stressed and to handle that I would hurt myself, and would get really upset at school. I don’t have one particular memory of primary school because it was always the same; me sitting on my own without friends.”

Lauren, who lives with her dad, step mum and three younger sisters, then began accessing help and support from NEAS.

I was supposed to start at a different school but right away the North East Autism Society realised that I had high educational demands and so although I was only 15 I was able to go to Thornhill Park, in the classes where it’s usually for 16-year-olds. I loved that. I always knew I wasn’t stupid.

“Right away I loved it. I loved every minute of it. I made friends and the teachers just ‘got me’. They gave me loads of work – which I loved – and I ended up with a C in Maths and a B in Art.”

Lauren Stephens

During her time at Thornhill Park School Lauren excelled at art and says she has the school’s Head Teacher to thank.

“Christine Cave would do art classes from time to time and I loved them. I still love art now, even though I don’t do it as much, because it helps me to calm down when I’m getting really worked up and stressed.”

Head Teacher, Christine Cave, says: “Lauren came to us vulnerable and very unhappy. She quickly made connections with staff and peers and was valued for who she was. She has come through a difficult period in her life stronger than ever and her work ethic is to be applauded.

“She is a talented artist, a warm and caring young lady who deserves the best in life. She has ambition, puts her heart and soul into achieving her goals and will succeed in whatever challenge she sets for herself.

Lauren is a young person whose personality and outlook on life stay with you and remind you of what can be achieved when the appropriate support and strategies are in place.

Now, the self-confessed Harry Potter fan, is finally excited for her future and has even set her sights on pursuing a career as a cook.

“I used to always want to do childcare because I had a placement working with little ones, but now that I’m at college I think I would like to be a cook or a waitress. I would never have thought I would get to have this nice life, but I think I can now," she adds.

I would really recommend NEAS to anyone who has been in my position. I never wanted to leave and I still keep in touch with everyone at the school. My life is totally different now. I’m not perfect, and I still need to work hard at calming myself down. No, I’m definitely not perfect, but I’m happy. I didn’t know what that was before.

Find out more about Thornhill Park School