We provide a range of specialist education services, housing and support for people with autistic spectrum disorders and learning disabilities. We are committed to enabling service users to function independently, while developing their lives with dignity and respect

About autism

Autism is lifelong conditions that can seriously affect a person's communication, use of imagination and social interaction, making the world an uncertain and often frightening place to inhabit. Without the right support, it can have a profound and often disabling effect on individuals and families. The term 'spectrum' is used because, while and no two people have the same needs, all people with autism share three main areas of difficulty to varying degrees- sometimes referred to as a 'triad' of impairments.

Without the right support, it can have a profound and often disabling effect on individuals and families.

  • Difficulty with social communication
  • Difficulty with social interaction
  • Difficulty with imagination

Opportunity to achieve

The Disabilities Trust is committed to developing person centred plans to maximise service users' independence and encourage them to attain their full potential. Mainstream education and training providers do not always possess the specialist knowledge or additional resources required to provide appropriate support. In response to this gap in provision, the Trust's NVQ Centre has been approved by the National Open College Network (NOCN) to deliver awards to service users, in their own environment, through the Opportunity to Achieve programme.

autistic service user playing a support worker at snooker in The Maples

The programme offers two options: 'Learning for Life' and 'Skills for Life', based on the NOCN Progression Awards and Step-up Awards respectively. Both groups of awards comprise many subject areas reflecting the activities already undertaken in many rehabilitation and care programmes.

These accreditations start at the very basic Entry Level and progress through three higher levels. The topics or 'units' include life skills and personal development as well as tasters in vocational subjects such as horticulture, photography, ICT, car maintenance, music and theatre. Achievements are measured in 'credits' which can be combined to create an Award, Certificate or Diploma, depending on the number of credits achieved.

How do service users benefit?

A common barrier to accessing qualifications in the community is that they are often academic in nature and delivered in a classroom-type setting which is not always appropriate for all learners. The aim of the Opportunity to Achieve programme is to contribute to service users' personal development and enhance feelings of self-confidence and achievement; they might also want to try new activities and develop new skills. Importantly, this formal recognition of achievement of skills and goals demonstrates service users' abilities to external organisations such as employers and mainstream education or training providers.

How does it work?

The aim is to contribute to service users' personal development and enhance feelings of self-confidence and achievement.

Opportunity to Achieve is coordinated by an NVQ and Training Manager, who liaises with each of the Trust's services or community houses and identify 'competent persons' whose responsibility is to work with service users to establish which topics they would like to pursue and assess their capabilities, such as car maintenance, health and hygiene skills or an introduction to food, drink and cooking.

NOCN is the leading credit-based awarding body in the UK; it is nationally recognised as an awarding body and is accredited by the regulatory authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. NOCN helps people achieve their goals through learning, regardless of their age, background or previous education. There are 2,500 centres nationally offering NOCN qualifications; NOCN collectively awards certificates to over 800,000 learners every year

autistic pupil in science class in Heathermount


At our autism services we believe that personalisation means thinking about care and support services in an entirely different way. This means starting with the person as an individual with strengths, preferences and aspirations and putting them at the centre of the process of identifying their needs and making choices about how and when they are supported to live their lives.

It requires a significant transformation of adult social care so that all systems, processes, staff and services are geared up to put people first. The traditional service-led approach has often meant that people have not received the right help at the right time and have been unable to shape the kind of support they need.

Personalisation is about giving people much more choice and control over their lives and goes well beyond simply giving personal budgets to people eligible for council funding. Personalisation means addressing the needs and aspirations of whole communities to ensure everyone has access to the right information, advice and advocacy to make good decisions about the support they need. It means ensuring that people have wider choice in how their needs are met and are able to access universal services such as transport, leisure and education, housing, health and opportunities for employment, regardless of age or disability.