Access and Inclusion for Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders ‘Let Me In’ – Matthew Hesmondhalgh and Christine Breakey
This book details the opening, maintenance, and progression of a resourced provision for autistic students in a secondary school – headed by main author Hesmondhalgh. As someone who has worked in a resource provision, albeit in a primary school, many of the problems and celebrations from this book are familiar. It also certainly helps to read about the struggles other people had, and how they overcame them. Just because everything is a battle now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way.
The book is framed largely by the journey of the first two students to ever attend the King Ecgbert resourced provision: Shaun and Andrew. Hesmondhalgh admits that in many ways, they students were their “guinea pigs” because they were attempting to do things that hadn’t been done in the area before. In fact many of the things that Hesmondhalgh and his team do in this book are still not rolled out to other areas of that country, which when you read how important and successful it was, and then realise that this book was published in 2001 is something of a concern.
The book starts, as makes most sense, before the resource provision has actually been built – where Shaun and Andrew are in the mainstream without a provision to return to when and if they feel the need. Hesmondhalgh discusses the help and the hindrances from various teachers at the beginning of the journey, and many of the opinions he writes about confronting then, now over fifteen years ago, remain the same opinions and problems I have come up against in recent years.
I think that’s why I enjoy this book so much, because it’s very relateable. It’s easy to lose yourself in the frustration of confronting yet another barrier for the students you work with or from butting up against yet another misconception or ignorant attitude; this book makes you realise that you’re not alone. It also shows you that sometimes pushing eventually gets you what you need and what your students deserve and are entitled to. Unfortunately it is also relateable in writing about the toll this inevitably has on the staff members, the families, and most importantly the students themselves.
Hesmondhalgh writes widely on topics that have been important throughout the years he has worked at the provision – from making inclusion work, to adapting the curriculum to make it more meaningful for his students, to counselling and teachings the students about their own autism, and to teaching the other staff and students at King Ecgbert’s about autism. There are battles with the Local Authority, some much needed explanations to Ofsted, and the constant financial concerns that plague all schools to back all of this.
Then comes the story of how the resource provision expands – and this is the point where the importance of the work Hesmondhalgh and his team were doing comes into focus. Rather than being content to work with their students until they do their GCSEs and then call it a day – they see the value and the need to extend their practice beyond secondary school, beyond school at all. Which is then followed by details and descriptions and anecdotes of how the Work Experience scheme was set up and how important and valuable that was; and how the provision extended it’s practice into college – creating a link between school, work, and further education.
I could write about this book for a long time, this and the sequel also written by Hesmondhalgh remain two of my favourite books in the field of autism, but my enjoyment does come with the disappointment that the great things written about in this book are still not seen widely. Hesmondhalgh and his team made (for the time especially) enormous strides forward in the field of education and autism, yet we have not seen these strategies rolled out nationwide. Still, they do remind me that things can be changed, it just might take a lot of hard work.
Is it worth reading?
After my review it will come as no surprise that I definitely recommend reading this book, especially if you yourself work in a resource provision. It is an honest, at times funny, at times frustrating, and at times celebratory account of working in a resource provision in the UK.