Josh Roberts joined the college 12 months ago, as the Coronavirus pandemic was taking hold in the UK.
It made his new role as an ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) and Support Mentor more challenging, as he was initially unable to meet face to face with students and ease their transition from secondary school to further education.
But with regular online sessions and virtual communication, Cambria provided a successful, bespoke transition into college for many autistic learners, and they are currently working with many more ahead of the next academic year.
“The move from school to college is daunting, and even more daunting for students with autism as they are so used to routine and the same environment that they’ve been in for five or six years at school,” said Josh, from Dwygyfylchi, near Conwy.
“So, we have made it clear we are there for them, been active in getting their thoughts and empowering them as to how we can help.
“As a result, all 47 ASD learners who required a bespoke transition in September are still with us, and we have over 80 joining us in the next academic year who are being offered similar transitional support.”
Josh, 31, is the first to hold this position at the college – which has sites in Deeside, Northop, Llysfasi, and Bersham Road and Yale in Wrexham – and said there are discussions ongoing over possible expansion of the team.
“The feedback we’ve had has been so positive, it’s heartening so many students with autism want to be a part of the Coleg Cambria experience,” he said.
“We have tried to make that transition process welcoming and less intimidating, and that appears to be working well. By just offering a friendly face and being the first port of call to deal with any issues makes a difference.”
Josh added: “Some students I speak to daily, some are independent, and others only need help now and again.
“As numbers grow then our team will as well, because we are focused on maintaining and even improving on our levels of care and support, for all learners, especially those who may have anxiety or mental health issues.
“There is ‘no one size fits all’ approach to ASD, everybody is different, and we do not label people or their condition, we are just here when they need us – for the majority of students and their families that is a very big thing.”
Coleg Cambria’s Inclusion Manager Lizzie Stevens praised Josh for his positivity and warmth in supporting learners with autism throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
“Historically it has been a challenge to retain ASD learners because there is such a difference between school and college and that proves too much for them to cope with,” she said.
“But our new approach is already making a difference, ensuring that transition is as smooth as possible and being there as a constant source of support, not just when the students arrive but throughout their time at the college.
“Josh has had such a positive effect and as a result our retention levels have never been higher, so as our numbers grow then we will grow with them and continue to deliver first class care and learning.”