WORKING one-to-one with an autistic child is what inspired Lucy Sinclair to become a teacher with the North East Autism Society.

Lucy was a teaching assistant at the time. She went on to train as a teacher and worked in mainstream schools for seven years before spotting a vacancy with NEAS that sounded perfect for her. “I’ve always wanted to work with autistic children again - so here I am,” she says.

She now teaches pre-14 pupils at the Society’s Mackenzie Thorpe Centre in South Bank, Middlesbrough, and says it is very different from mainstream teaching.

You have to think on your feet. The fun part is getting to know a pupil, what their interests are and what’s going to motivate them.

"It’s about being adaptable and flexible in your approach."

Lessons in the classroom are short and tailored to the needs and interests of the pupils. A lot of learning takes place in the community, too, with swimming sessions, bus journeys and visits to shops.

“The pupils will go into shops and ask for things – that gives them the chance to communicate with people and do money transactions,” Lucy says.

Watching her pupils grow in confidence socially and emotionally as well as academically is the most rewarding part of her job, she adds.

"Some days can be challenging, but the pupils just make your day by saying something that makes you laugh or giving you a cuddle out of nowhere."

The school, which is named after NEAS patron and world-renowned artist Mackenzie Thorpe, teaches pupils aged five to 19 who are autistic, neurodivergent or have additional needs.

Lucy’s colleagues come from a range of backgrounds but support each other to create the best possible experience for pupils.

New staff receive a week-long induction to the Society, with autism and neurodiversity training, first aid and safeguarding. They go on to receive e-learning and in-depth training with teachers.

“If there’s any point where someone doesn’t feel prepared, NEAS provides them with extra training that suits their needs,” Lucy adds.

“I love working here. The atmosphere is wonderful, and everybody helps and supports each other.”

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