Leeds student on autism spectrum tells of overcoming challenges in education

A  Leeds student who is on the autism spectrum has spoken of the  challenges he has faced and overcome throughout his education.

Friday, 2nd April 2021, 6:00 am
Kristian Greenwood Photo: Bruce Rollinson

Kristian Greenwood, 23, who was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome aged two-and-a-half, is currently in the third and final year of a creative media technology degree at Leeds Beckett University.

Kristian said he struggled in mainstream schooling as a child, but things improved when he moved to a specialist unit for children on the autism spectrum at St Thomas à Becket Catholic Secondary School in Wakefield.

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Kristian Greenwood Photo: Bruce Rollinson

"I got 10 GCSEs and went on to college at The Skills Exchange, Castleford, to do an engineering BTEC," said Kristian, who spoke to the YEP during World Autism Awareness Week.

"The college had a disability hub as well where I could go in between classes if I needed some extra guidance.

"After two years I decided I wanted to go to the University of Leeds to continue my engineering studies, but I went in blind without any indication of what to expect.

"I expected it to be similar to college in a way, but it turned out to be a lot more focused on independence.

"I need instructions and guidance and I need a map on what to do and where to go.

"I also struggle with socialising as well. I didn't really have any friends to talk to and relax a bit from the stress.

"It was a bit too much to handle at once. I just felt a bit overwhelmed. It was a big change in my life and it just got a bit too much.

"It was a bit of a sensory overload because of the environment and because there were so many students there.

"I don't do really well in crowds as there is too much noise. It just makes me feel really anxious and stressed.”

"There was the general disability support the university offered and I had a note taker to take notes in lectures as I can struggle with listening and taking notes at the same time.

"The abstract way of working just wasn't suitable for me, but I held on for two more years until I failed the second year and decided to change universities to do creative media technology at Leeds Beckett, which was much better for me."

Kristian said the course at Leeds Beckett was more suitable as there were no exams and the campus in Headingley is smaller.

"I made some connections with other peers which helped a lot with group work," he said.

"I got a placement at Dynamic Business Services in Harewood just before my final year, which was a lot of good experience.

"I was a creative developer working on e-learning courses for businesses. The NHS was one of the clients.

Kristian said Dynamic Business Services gave him a lot of help, including arranging for a mentor to provide support.

Kristian said he should have been on the placement for a year, but it was cut to 10 months due to Covid.

Kristian, who is now in his final year of his degree, added: " It has been a lot easier to handle at Leeds Beckett - I am definitely more creative than I am an academic."

Kristian said he has encountered problems with some people who do not understand autism and how it affects him.

He said: "When it comes to how I want people to treat me, I just want them to have some patience and understanding and be aware of how my autism can affect me.

"For example, I may say something that would sound off or strange to someone when I don't mean to make it sound like that.

"Or similarly, I may act in a way where someone wouldn't normally and that might put some people off.

"I might have difficulty explaining something, especially verbally and I'd like people to be aware of that too.

"It can make me struggle a bit more with making friends, but I don't want people to get the wrong idea or think there's something wrong with me or treat it like some kind of disease or mental illness, really, it's just my autism making me act in a different manner or perceive things in a different manner to how people normally would.

"It makes me unique and not something I should be ashamed of. And I'd like people to understand that."

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.

The National Autistic Society says one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK.

World Autism Awareness Week runs from March 29.

For more details on World Autism Awareness Week, go to www.autism.co.uk