Meet Stephanie Smith, a woman driven by her passion to create change in the autism community through education.
Stephanie Smith is the recently appointed Deputy Headteacher at The Cavendish School, a state-maintained special free school for young people with autism in the UK—and the world’s first International Baccalaureate (IB) special autism school. Stephanie has been involved in the autism community for over 10 years. Her experience ranges from working within mainstream primaries, secondaries, and special needs schools.
Stephanie trained in Mathematics at Stanground Academy before going on to complete a national award for special educational needs coordination. Prior to joining The Cavendish School, she worked at Medeshamstede Academy in Peterborough, with almost 100 autistic students ranging between the ages of four and 16 years.
Stephanie shares that her journey within the autism community started because of personal interest. She attended a variety of autism courses, such as the National Autistic Society Early Bird course, and says: “Through this, I realized I wanted to become part of the solution for the educational difficulties that I could see around me in the autism community… I wanted everyone to be able to see the beauty and positives…”
Stephanie was inspired by a local Special Educational Needs & Disabilities Coordinator to become a teacher and pursue her ambition.
A challenge Stephanie says she faces within her work is the prejudice and judgment within the world of autism education. She believes The Cavendish School is important to challenging stereotypes and building a strong and diverse community.
Stephanie’s accomplishment is centered on how empowered her students become.
”I enjoy seeing my students grow to be happy and successful young adults who are engaging with their communities, further education and work, and knowing that I have given students the ability to be able to express their own voice and advocate for themselves,” she says.
Stephanie is also proud to have nurtured, trained, and supported other professionals within her field to understand how autism affects young people and their families.
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Stephanie is inspired by students and young people every day. This inspiration, she says, “stems from how hard they work to be a part of their communities and achieve their goals.”
She adds: “They don’t have the option of giving up to make the world a better place for them to live in and neither do I.”
Stephanie’s focus is to manage The Cavendish School the right way, with a holistic curriculum focused on the individual needs of each student.
Stepahnie explains: “The Cavendish School holds the student at its heart, and this includes providing a community and understanding safe space for the whole family.” As part of her role, she aims to support families through the complexities, struggles, achievements, and joys of raising a young autistic person.
“The purpose of The Cavendish School is to create a safe and nurturing environment so that the young child can be themself and thrive.” Stephanie concludes. “This allows the focus within the home to be about family life.”
Advice for families affected by autism
Stephanie encourages families affected by autism to not manage everything on their own as there are wonderful support groups and communities out there, including The Cavendish School.
Her message is to take one day at a time and celebrate all successes—especially the little ones.
This article was featured in Issue 126 – Romantic Relationships and Autism