Jamie is our fabulous young man who is 20 years old. He has Down Syndrome and is autistic as well as having other sensory and dyspraxic difficulties. Jamie loves to be with people and wants to be sociable and involved in all that’s going on. However, his needs means he can find this difficult and can either become overwhelmed or not know or be able to respond appropriately to his situation.
Throughout his teenage years Jamie has struggled to find his ‘tribe’ – that is, a group he can identify with, that support and encourage him as he is and offer him friendship and an outlet to just be himself.
The Independence Project has been a lifeline for him – and us. It’s really hard to watch your young adult struggle to be included and even harder to see him being left out or ignored, or even worst laughed at or taken advantage of. As Jamie has wanted to become more independent, we, as his parents, were increasingly worried about this in particular.
We met Andrew through a youth club Jamie attended whilst he was at college and we immediately knew that here was someone that ‘got it’ – that understood the need for our young people to want to do what all other teens and young adults are doing. Go to the pub, go to the cinema, have a laugh. But do these things safely and without worry or fear (for him and us). There are so very few places for young adults with special needs to go – having the Independence Project has been invaluable. It was exactly what we were looking for.
It’s meant Jamie now has a gang of friends he knows get him. A group of like minded people that won’t belittle him, that will encourage him and will push him to become the independent person he so much wants to be.
In lockdown, things were tough as Jamie’s college closed as did his work placement. Andrew ensured there was always contact and ran so many things via Zoom to keep the group connected. The Friday afternoon Instagram Live cooking events were particularly memorable. Jamie looked forward to these as it meant he could chat with his friends and let off some steam.
The weekends away have, without doubt, been the highlight for Jamie. He has been fortunate enough to go away twice this year for a weekend in the caravan and absolutely loved it. From having his first pint of Guiness, to grooving on the dance floor, to days at the beach and a hundred TikToks, Jamie clearly feels like he has finally found his tribe.
For me, as Jamie’s mum I cannot put a price on this. To see Jamie come back every time he’s been with Andrew and his fabulous team totally relaxed, happy and often exhausted (they do a lot of steps!) is great. Even when Jamie has his off days, Andrew, Liv, Dean and Tracy are great at getting him motivated, being sensitive to his needs and helping him move forward. Sadly Jamie lost his beloved Grandad this year and Andrew and his team have dealt with this with a lot of sensitivity and kindness.
For us as a family it means we can relax knowing Jamie is being well looked after. When Jamie went away with the group it was the first time we have all had a weekend without Jamie and it gave us all some time we really need. As much as we love and adore our young man, he’s noisy, he’s full on and he takes a lot of our attention. So having some space from each other is much needed.
I can’t see Jamie ever leaving IP! We certainly hope it continues providing this much needed service to young adults in Essex. In fact, we are sure it will grow from strength to strength!
Thank you to Andrew and his amazing team – and his ever patient family!
Jo, Cliff, Sam, Lou and JJ
Jamie is a real performer and a very talented dancer and accomplished drummer! Take a look at his TikToks we regularly make with him. You can view more by subscribing to our YouTube channel and checking out his playlist. Or catch him on our other social media channels.