Here at Autism Wessex, we have a simply incredible team made up of wonderful people who day in, day out go above and beyond to ensure the safety, wellbeing and happiness of our students and clients. We call them our Autism Superheroes, because they will most definitely be there to save the day.
Today we’re meeting Paul Winter, Teaching Assistant at our specialist school, Portfield School. COVID-19 really has turned our student’s worlds upside down, but Paul has been a fantastic grounding support for everyone.
What is Portfield School?
Portfield is an autism friendly school, we work with children and young adults from the ages of 3 – 19. I personally work with the younger age groups; my youngest student is 4 and my oldest is 7. The school has four sites, each catering to the different needs and aspirations of every age group.
How long have you been in your teaching assistant role and how did you get into it?
I’ve just successfully passed my probation so, around seven months I've been in the job. Before becoming a teaching assistant, I was a healthcare assistant working with the elderly – mostly those with dementia and Alzheimer’s; I’ve always been in caring roles.
Funnily enough, just after leaving school, I applied for a teaching assistant role at Portfield School but, at the time, I wasn’t old enough to take on the role – I was younger than some of the students there! So, I spent a couple of years working elsewhere and one day, I saw the exact same banner and knew I had to apply. This time round, I was lucky enough to be accepted – it was like it was meant to be!
What does a usual day look like as a teaching assistant at Portfield?
I’m not sure there is a usual day! It varies, different days bring different occasions, and some are easier than others.
For me, the day is very child-led; the mood of the child I work with determines how my day will pan out. My goal is to ensure that they are happy at school and able to learn in a way that suits them. Of course, if they aren’t having a great day, my key priority will be to help them through that and support their emotional needs.
To help regulate the children’s anxiety, the school has a very structured routine; whatever is done on a Monday is what is done every Monday. However, after a half term break or the summer holidays, we do change up the schedule. This not only helps diversify their learning but also encourages them to feel settled about change; whilst this can be incredibly challenging it’s a great learning curve for them. It prepares them for the fact that life can change, and that’s ok.
In terms of lessons, the children engage with curriculum core subjects, but we tailor the lessons to the needs of the children. This usually means the lessons are much shorter as they all work much better in short bursts, a regular lesson is about half an hour long.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
I enjoy helping the children to get to a point where they feel that they understand what we are learning about or the task at hand. When something clicks for them, I get a buzz from their success.
How has your job role changed since COVID-19?
I’m not actually working in the school for now because many of the children have been taken out by their parents because of health concerns, which is completely understandable, so there's too many teachers to students!
Instead, I have been working in the community with the adults. I’ll either be out with them in their houses or working within the residential homes; it’s been great to see a different side to the charity and meet lots of new people.
Also, with my background in community care, I felt like it was a great opportunity for me to carry on making a difference. Especially as those in the community need us now more than ever just to have a sense of normality, they need their shopping and their medication – daily life needs to go on for them as much as possible and we’re here to help.
How has life changed for you personally since the COVID-19 outbreak?
At the moment it all feels a bit strange as I’m the only one in my household going to work! It’s odd being the only one to get up and go.
Other than that, I can’t say lots has changed. Of course, we’re now supplied with PPE if we need it and there’s a great circle of support from my colleagues but, it’s not as if this is new – I've always felt completely supported by the team whether there’s been COVID or not.
You’re one of the charity’s number one fundraisers – why is it so important to you?
I have autism myself and when I was younger, the charity supported both my parents and me. I want to give back and show gratitude for what the team at Autism Wessex did for us and when I help out with fundraising it feels as if I can put something towards the next family who will need our help.
How has fundraising been impacted since COVID-19?
A lot of our face to face events have had to be put on pause but, we are still exploring online to continue our fundraising efforts. We’re currently holding an online auction with AFC Bournemouth which is great!
But however easy or efficient online fundraising might be, I can say that once all of this is over, we’ll be raring to get back out there and do as many events as we can. There’s a difference when it’s face to face – you get to meet new people, your hard work is noticed and you can help to get the Autism Wessex name out there.