"It has given him confidence to try new things": How Duke of Edinburgh's award changed the life of a Leeds teenager with autism

A Leeds teenager with autism has done things his peers would have been too scared to try thanks to the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme.

Thursday, 15th April 2021, 6:00 am

Thomas Bliss, of Scholes, gained his bronze level DofE award just before the first national lockdown in March 2020 and is now hoping to pick up where he left off and work towards the silver.

A pupil at Tadcaster Grammar School, Thomas has done his bronze award through The Elmets Explorer Scout Unit, of which he is a member, and the group works in partnership with the DofE scheme.

Thomas' father, Jon Bliss said the experiences and challenges that Thomas has undertaken while being on the scheme, which included a two day and overnight unaccompanied expedition, have given him a new sense of confidence and the family are "incredibly proud" of him.

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Thomas Bliss who has completed his Duke of Edinburgh's bronze award.

The DofE awards were set up in 1956 and since the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh last Friday, the scheme has been praised for the millions of young people it has influenced over the years.

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"The DofE is really keen on independence and resilience in young people and that is something that an autistic person struggles with and may need support for every day tasks. As parents, we felt confident to step back and allow him to develop with the group that were going on the expedition. He was over the moon when he completed the bronze."

The way the scheme is structured allowed for Thomas to do the walk (which he physically struggles to do) at his own pace and his family were allowed to reccy the route with him before-hand so it was more familiar.

The Duke of Edinburgh.

Mr Bliss praised the inclusivity of the scheme and added that while COVID and the lockdowns had set Thomas back, he is looking forward to re-developing and working towards the silver award.

He added: "It has given him the confidence to try new things where normally he wouldn't and the confidence to be more socially aware and speak in social situations where he would normally keep quiet. COVID has really set him back, he did not take to remote learning even though he desperately tried but his school work has taken a hit. Just before that he had done his bronze and been to America for the World Scout Jamboree.

"He was a very different young man and had some wonderful experiences and pushed himself and a lot of people with sensory issues would be deeply anxious about but he came through it. It gave him a new sense of confidence. When he was on the DofE and doing his expedition you probably would not have known he had a hidden disability."

Herd Farm, near Eccup, offers the DofE award and hosts camping and expedition sections as well as organising activities away from the 16 acre farm which dates back to 1760.

Herd Farm at Eccup.

Tony Edwards is the farm manager and said offering the DofE scheme at Herd Farm was an asset to the city.

He added: "Over the years we have hosted hundreds of young people and a few years ago took five students that had completed the Gold award to Buckingham Palace and they met Prince Edward.

"It is probably about ten per cent of the work that we do but it is such an important learning opportunity for young people and held in such high esteem we want to offer DofE and want to offer that to young people.

"It is extremely valuable, not just for universities, who do sit up and take notice, but for employers as well. It shows that a young person is committed and has worked on an experience that was a challenge. It brings together young people from different backgrounds and is recognised nationally as a reputable award.

"It is something we should be proud of as a city that was set up by the Duke of Edinburgh. It has been around a long time, and times and cultures change but it is still up there and as popular as ever."

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