“I’ve been shown that there are ways to to achieve my ambitions as a neurodivergent person” – Creative student overcomes the challenges of autism to pursue arts career

Saraya Hall reluctantly returned to education at 17, after previously having difficulty learning in traditional education settings. 

Leeds City College’s Social Emotional and Mental Health provision, Somerville House, gave Saraya the opportunity to learn in an inclusive environment which offered a bespoke approach to their learning needs.

While studying on the Foundation in Further Education course paired with art, she developed an aptitude for arts culture and refined their skills at Leeds Museums and Galleries.

Taking the plunge

Feeling apprehensive about returning to education is common for many, and this was no exception for Saraya.

“I was especially nervous about coming back to college, as this was my first time being in education knowing that I was autistic. Somerville House completely defied my expectations; I was given the space and support to learn more about myself and my needs in a positive light.

“I had the freedom to work on things I enjoyed, which paired with the high support and small classes, made for an outstanding learning experience. The staff were incredibly understanding of my needs, constantly helping me to find better ways of working and new ways to engage with subjects.

“The reassurance, validation and encouragement of my skills and passions massively boosted my confidence, which is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m grateful to have been shown that there are ways to achieve my ambitions as a neurodivergent person – and that feels incredibly liberating.”

Putting pen to paper

The course at Somerville House allowed Saraya to get their creative flair down to a fine art.

“Art lessons inspired me to delve deeper into what art means to me culturally and personally, often thinking how it could benefit my mental health in a positive way. Art has helped me ease feelings of anxiety, as I can concentrate on the work I’m producing and add my personality to it. 

“I felt extremely lucky to be able to do a virtual placement with Leeds Museums and Galleries. I mostly did research for the museums, however I was particularly proud of the staff autism training I worked on. I was able to offer my knowledge for a staff presentation, where I put together useful resources and commented on my personal experiences.

“This work experience has been invaluable to me; I’ve learnt how to handle workloads, manage time and excel in professional environments. I was also able to write articles about topics I have a keen interest in, such as Ancient Egyptians

“Learning about the museum and the great work they do has made me even more passionate about how arts, culture and heritage are essential to communities. I’m motivated to work towards making these spaces more accessible and reflective of a diverse range of communities.”

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