Window on the world of work
Kate arranged for her 16-year-old son Connor to do an 8-week work experience placement at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. The impact on his confidence was immediate and far beyond her expectations. Now he’s looking to the future – and so is she
“We can rely too much on professionals – sometimes we just need to get on and do it ourselves, then tell other parents so they go: ‘I could do that’.”
Deciding what to do for the rest of your life is a tall order at 16. Yet advice and support for young people seems to depend on them knowing the unknowable.
To Kate it was obvious Connor, who has autism, would have to try a job first to know if it might work for him.
“If he couldn’t be a professional gamer, Connor said he’d like to be either a cinema projectionist or a sound and light technician,” she says. “I explained the job might sound great, but he would need to get an idea of what it would involve for him.”
She wasn’t sure who to contact about work experience but in the end went straight to the top, emailing the chief executive of the Eden Court Theatre directly with her request.
It takes courage, but Kate believes parents should be bold and simply ask more often.
“The worst they can say is no – in which case we’re no worse off than we were before,” she says. “The more often you do it, the more you realise people do want to help. Places like Eden Court may even prefer to deal with parents directly, because it can be more flexible.”
Connor is shadowing the theatre technicians for around 2 hours a week, hands on as a full member of the team. Kate takes him to the theatre and stays on hand, but rarely sees him: “I sit and read a book. He just disappears with the rest of the team.”
In his first week Connor was setting up lights, then moving flooring and building decking for a graduation. At Christmas, he helped with sound and light for the school show. Everything is practical – the team show him how to do a task, then leave him to get on with it, but are there to supervise and help if it’s needed.
“This is the first time he’s ever been enthusiastic, about anything,” Kate says. “He has very low self confidence and has struggled a lot with anxiety, but when he’s doing this he just beams. He’s like a different person.”
The experience has had a huge impact.
“A real plus is he can see people have come through different routes – some have been to college, others have learned on the job. It’s good for him to know there are different ways people get to where they want to be. It gives him hope.”
The impact has been felt at school, too.
“He’s never been able to attend school more than 6 hours a week, but now he’s trying all kinds of things he never thought he could do. He’s talking about doing a course in sound engineering,” Kate says. “The experience has given him a really practical vision of how he might manage in the future. It’s also given him different insights about friendship and how it works – as a member of the team, everyone looks out for each other, and they’ll have your back. Until this Connor didn’t really have friends apart from online. It’s given him social skills he was lacking before.”
Kate hopes it may be possible to extend the placement, although she knows many other young people will also be looking for this kind of experience. But she’s convinced the skills and confidence Connor is developing will be invaluable for the future.
“The main thing is, it’s opened his eyes to what’s possible and given him hope there will be things he can do,” she says. “I gave up work several years ago to support Connor, but I’m now volunteering at the local hospice and hoping to transition back into work next year. So hopefully both our lives will change.”
A big thank you to all at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness for their support and for the backstage photo