A former pupil's perspective

Jay Jones is 22 years old and is a past resident of Dawn House School. He currently lives in Derbyshire and having just completed a degree in Business Law at Nottingham Trent, he is about to start his second degree of Occupational Therapy at The University of Derby. Below, he shares with us his experience of being a resident at the school.


Before going to Dawn House, I was in mainstream education. I struggled whilst I was there with all the large crowds and noise, which made me feel very overwhelmed. I also found this made it hard to make myself heard or to think clearly, which led to me not concentrating in class. Every day felt like major sensory overload, meaning, my behaviour wasn’t always the best. I found it difficult to communicate to the teachers and my parents that I wasn’t happy there. Often this meant the stress from school came into my home life too, causing behaviour issues and tension with my family.

The teachers made every effort to make my transition as smooth as possible"


When I was ten years old I was diagnosed as Autistic. It was suggested to my Mum and Dad that I go and check out Dawn House and see if I liked it. At first, I only went for the day and then shortly after I had a trial in residential care, which I really enjoyed. Dawn House helped me adjust to the new environment by giving me a personalised timetable and a map of the school. It felt very different as there was a focus on one-to-one support which was perfect for me. My stay also acted as respite for my parents who were trying to find the right school that could provide the right support for me.

When I joined Dawn House full time, it took me a while to get used to all the changes and new people. At the time, I found this difficult, as being in an unfamiliar environment felt daunting. The school was very aware of the communication challenges that I - and perhaps some of my other friends at the school were facing at the time, and the teachers made every effort to make my transition as smooth as possible. I had regular contact with my key worker, and I found this helpful.

Being away from home can often be challenging for young people, and having this sense of normality really helped me to relax whilst at Dawn House."


People often ask me what happens once the school day ends? Throughout my time at Dawn House, I was allocated a key worker. This is all about developing a pastoral relationship, somebody you can talk to about your day, or about anything troubling you at the time. Having a regular routine was important to me, and many of my peers who had similar needs, the residential staff helped facilitate this through making dinner at a set time, alongside structured activity sessions throughout the week.

Being away from home can often be challenging for young people, and having this sense of normality really helped me to relax whilst at Dawn House. Having pastoral meetings daily really gave me a safe space to talk about how I felt and helped me to grow my confidence and slowly ease into my new environment. The school was always willing to help me in any way possible, I often found relaxing in the sensory integration room with my key worker helped me recharge my batteries after a busy day!

Dawn House provided so many opportunities for me to grow and develop and has made me the person I am today."


It’s quite a unique experience at 11, 12, 13 years old going away from home for the first time, and it’s perfectly natural to be nervous. Dawn House provided so many opportunities for me to grow and develop and has made me the person I am today. There were loads of after school activities and sports to get involved with. I loved playing football, hockey, and stuff like that.

As well as sports, there were regular trips outside of the school grounds, going out for meals or to the cinema or the local leisure centre. We’d normally go out once a week to engage with the wider outside world and if anyone wanted to join a local club, the school would always try to accommodate that. I had always loved football, so the school helped me join and train with a local team, once or twice a week.

My time at Dawn House left me with treasured memories and set me up to succeed in and outside of education."


Taking part in the school plays was a real highlight and so was Summer Camp. Basically, over two weeks, residential and non-residential pupils at the school came together and we would all go out on day trips to places like Alton Towers and Go Ape. I made some good friends, many that I am still in touch with.

My time at Dawn House left me with treasured memories and set me up to succeed in and outside of education. My time in residential care, despite being challenging at first, helped me to become more independent and prepare me for life outside of the school. I was always made to feel comfortable, respected and knew the staff genuinely cared and wanted to help me develop as a person. The school will always hold a special place in my life.

Words by Jay Jones, a former pupil of Dawn House School.

Do you know a child who would benefit from being in an educational setting that can offer full-time support, potentially extending beyond the school day?

Share this story with parents during conversations about their child possibly requiring a specialist school offering a residential provision.

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