Thornbeck College

Thornbeck College is an Independent Specialist College providing personalised programmes to autistic and neurodivergent individuals

Working together to inspire, support, celebrate and equip autistic and neurodivergent people to fulfil their potential in life.

DESPITE being selectively mute for much of his life, Joe Horner’s ability and desire to communicate has increased significantly since enrolling at Thornbeck College in 2018, says mum Fiona Naughton.

Not only that, 22-year-old Joe’s confidence and self-esteem have also been boosted over the past three years, with Fiona adding that her son now “sees himself as a grown-up”.

“When Joe started at college he was selectively mute, and had been throughout his time at school,” Fiona, from Spennymoor, County Durham, says. “Now he speaks in a more adult way and is more independent.

“He wants to help around the house, which is a massive change – he’s a grown man now.”

Having initially visited our day service provision at New Warlands Farm, Fiona felt Joe would be better suited to an educational setting and scheduled a visit to Thornbeck College, which caters for learners aged 16 to 25.

Joe had a number of preliminary visits to the college before enrolling – but Fiona says it was clear from the start that the NEAS-run further education provision would be a great fit.

“After those visits the staff at the college said he was so chatty – we couldn’t believe it,” Fiona adds.

We were quite taken aback – in fact, we thought they’d got the wrong person. But it just shows that he is happy. Joe loves college.

Joe attends college, which is based at our North East Centre for Autism, four days per week and is currently following a social and vocational programme of learning.

He has also previously completed work placements in a number of settings including the North East Autism Society charity shop and Bowes Railways Museum.

Fiona says: “He isn’t just occupied at college, he feels like what he is doing is worthwhile. He quite likes the idea of making something and seeing where it goes – and he always brings the college catalogues home for me to buy something.”

Fiona says she has also been blown away by how well the staff at Thornbeck know her son, adding that it gives her comfort to know there are so many people Joe likes at college.

She says: “When we go to meetings at Thornbeck, the staff that work with him really know him. They know what makes him happy and they keep me up to date which gives me a starting point for conversations about what he’s been doing.” 

And it’s not just the staff at the college who Joe has developed bonds with, as he has also developed relationships with his fellow learners.

It’s good to know that there’s people he really likes there. We went to Spain earlier this year and he was saying ‘I do miss my friends’.

Fiona says the biggest thing Joe has taken from his time at Thornbeck are the valuable life skills he has developed, which she hopes will prepare him for a more independent future.

“Joe has always wanted to be with me but I have always tried to show him that life doesn’t revolve around me,” she adds.

“Recently though he said ‘I think I might move in with some of the lads, so I think he knows that Independent Supported Living is probably what’s next for him. I want to prepare him for that.”

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