Thinking cap on…

Going through my mind that Friday morning after a sleepless night was what our options were, and they were seriously limited.

John had talked about moving somewhere in the country where there was a college which could meet Zach’s needs, not a bad idea but we had to find that college and it would need to provide ABA, have expert autism provision and also have a robust positive behaviour support programme in place, have a place and be ready to take Zach in September.

‘Positive behaviour support is a behaviour management system used to understand what maintains an individual’s challenging behaviour. People’s inappropriate behaviours are difficult to change because they are functional, they serve a purpose for them. These behaviours are supported by reinforcement in the environment’

The idea I was formulating in my mind was this

  • Purchase a flat, two bedrooms minimum, Zach needed a base for his learning to take place. It would be a barrier to his learning given the long history of time spent within the home for the base to be at home and there would be many changes needed before learning could even start to begin.
  • Find expert support who would be happy to support Zach fulltime, teaching him life skills, communication skills and accessing the wider community.


  • Get funding for this!
Expert support is very difficult to find, I am sure many other parents who have a young person with autism can testify and relate to this. We have over the years had some seriously inappropriate people sent to provide Zach with a short break.
‘Short breaks provide opportunities for disabled children and young people to spend time away from their primary carers. These include day, evening, overnight or weekend activities and take place in the child’s own home, the home of an approved carer, a residential or community setting’.
Some of the types we have had through our door are as follows :-
People who told us of all the experience they had looking after ‘these’ people and then sat and chatted to me for what felt like hours on end while Zach occupied himself elsewhere in the house. They would usually ask how I first knew Zach had autism and then want me to go through the whole story. Others with a child who has autism will tell you the same as me, asking this question is about at novel as Monday following Sunday! We are all sick of the question and sick of people expecting a long, detailed and emotional answer. Sorry!
The chap who called Zach ‘Forrest Gump’ because he could run fast, why not Linford Christie?
Zach does have a good turn of speed so when a man turned up and sat on our rather low sofa was unable to stand up due to his exceedingly large body weight, I really felt that people matching hadn’t been a consideration by the agency.
We had plenty who turned up and before they had even crossed the front door step were telling us how tired they were, what a busy day they had had and how they couldn’t wait to get home and go to bed, not exactly inspiring.
Along with this mass of unsuitable types we have also had some fantastic support from people who we are still very good friends with, still support Zach and I hope will long continue to.
However, last November the Beam Clinic started working with Zach at home, delivering 6 hours each week and we have been thrilled with their professionalism and approach to a personalised learning programme for Zach.
Beam can be found at I called Cormac Duffy who manages the Beam clinic in Finchley on Friday afternoon and asked if Beam would support Zach full time and he gave me a very definite and hugely reassuring Yes!
Purchasing a flat wasn’t going to be easy , we needed to find some capital…I purchased an extra lottery ticket for Saturday night!
Anyway I am pretty dogged when I get the bit between my teeth, so although I didn’t know how we would manage it, I was determined that this was the plan and it was going to happen….we had the green light from Beam and this was now The Zach Project.

The Zach Project


I hope you are wondering what The Zach Project is all about…

Zach is my son, he is 18 and due to leave his school in July. Zach has severe autism, he is non verbal and has behaviour which can challenge.

He attends an independent school called Treehouse which was set up by a group of devoted parents who wanted the best education for their children, Treehouse is now run by the charity Ambitious about Autism. Some years ago parents became worried about what their children would do when they left the sanctity of Treehouse school and were thrown out into a world which largely does not understand autism or accommodate difference too well and it was decided that the charity should aim to open a college, Ambitious College to give all young people on the Autistic spectrum a right to a college experience and education…..sounds good so far right?

We believed that Zach would be offered a place at Ambitious college, he attended the charities school and needed a college to go to when he finishes there.

He has done well in the 6 years he has been at Treehouse School using the applied behaviour analysis approach to learn.

Applied behaviour analysis in a nutshell is ‘the process of systematically applying interventions based upon the principles of learning theory to improve socially significant behaviours to a meaningful degree, and to demonstrate that the interventions employed are responsible for the improvement in behaviour.’ It is a tried and tested method of working with people with autistic spectrum condition and can be very effective.

On the 11th February while I was at work I received a phone call to tell me that Zach was not going to be offered a place at Ambitious College. The reason given was that he needs access to a quiet room and they could not provide this facility.

We had about 5 months in which to come up with another plan. You may wonder why I didn’t just approach one of the other colleges which I had diligently visited and researched, the reason I couldn’t do this was because there was no where within reach of our home in Hertford that would be able to meet Zach’s needs and offer a suitable environment in which Zach would learn and thrive.

My first reaction was disbelief and anger. Zach was going to be one of the fewer than ‘one in four young people able to access education beyond school’. Ironically I got this figure from Ambitious Colleges website.

Both my and John’s initial reaction was that we would challenge the decision to exclude Zach from his college experience but by 10’o clock on Friday morning I had another idea and that was The Zach Project!

I’m not quite sure how I will pull it together, I have the support of John, Beam Clinic, some great friends and professionals so The Zach project has begun!