How Kingfisher autism group helped us fly

April 26, 2022

Image by Max Ferreira

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira discovers how former Livingstone School pupils like him launch into life

Before knowing about my autism, I remember being part a special educational group that helped with my learning difficulty. It’s called Kingfisher Resourced Provision.

Based in Livingstone Primary School in Barnet, the Kingfisher group was opened in October 2001 by Jane Asher, president of the National Autistic Society (NAS) charity. The Kingfisher group provides additional support for a small group of young children diagnosed with autism from Nursery to year 6.

Up until I started secondary school, Livingstone’s Kingfisher group has given me memories, from having one-to-ones with supportive teachers to building confidence to explore new things, even in my timetabled lessons outside the group. For example I remember really enjoying the practical sessions such as music, cooking, art and crafts etc.

Since finishing Livingstone School, I have progressed so much into becoming a young man working in retail. I have often wondered how other Livingstone school learners have moved on. Last year I reunited with some old friends, who attended the school at the same time as myself.

I feel like I had only fully recognised even just the word ‘autism’ after I had left Livingstone

I decided to ask Sam Coleman (26) and Finn Walters (23) to share their experience and memories through a small questionnaire I created.

Max Ferreira (MF): How old were you when you had an understanding that you had autism?

Sam Coleman (SC): I knew that I was different from most of my mainstream classmates and I needed extra support from the teachers. I also had different kinds of therapy, such as music, occupational and speech, but I feel like I had only fully recognised even just the word ‘autism’ after I had left Livingstone, so at about 11.

Finn Walters (FW): I was 16 when I first discovered about it. I always had a feeling I felt different to others then one day I was watching TV at home where someone was talking about having autism. I then asked my dad if I had it and he said yes. Things began to make sense when the conversation continued talking about times from when I was growing up.

MF: Do you remember your first day at Livingstone School and your first day in the Kingfisher group?

SC: Wow, 2001 was such a long time ago! It’s difficult to paint a picture of my exact memories at the time, but I can look back with amazement at how I was among the first intake in Kingfisher.

While I was too young and naive at the time to be analytical of myself, my parents recognised that I had my challenges on the one hand, but on the other hand, they had a strong belief that I was smart and capable (if a little precocious), and that Kingfisher would lead onto good things, and they were right!

I did freak out a lot throughout the first hour but the understanding of everyone is fantastic and they helped me fit right in

FW: My first day at Livingstone was interesting and wild at the same time. I’d just left Newstead Nursery the summer before but, due to the autism, I had no idea that I was leaving.

When I came to Livingstone on my first day, due to the change that I hadn’t fully grasped, I did freak out a lot throughout the first hour I was there but the understanding of everyone at Livingstone is fantastic and they helped me fit right in.

MF: Do you think being enrolled into Kingfisher helped with your autism?

SC: In retrospect, yes. It really brought benefits to be in an environment that was well-trained and inclusive. I think they found the missing piece of the jigsaw, which was not just the recognition of my challenges, but also the belief and faith in my potential, and an encouragement for me not to face my challenges alone. So it was definitely a success.

I also think that being part of the Kingfisher group helped us to feel like we had something in common, and form a very close bond and do some fun stuff together.

I have so many happy memories of the teachers, birthday parties, playing computer games, music time, excursions to Paradise Wildlife Park, the journeys on the StarBus and the list goes on.

Livingstone were really good at ensuring that I could fit into both the mainstream and ‘atypical’ environments

FW: I feel Kingfisher did play a massive part for me. For example, small things like I used to always drink from a bottle mainly but they slowly helped me drink out of cups and, before I knew it, I came out of the habit of using bottles. I really enjoyed the times where we learnt songs.

MF: Do you think being in school lessons was vey different from the Kingfisher group?

SC: There were differences in class size and the curriculum. Livingstone were really good at ensuring that I could fit into both the mainstream and ‘atypical’ environments, which I don’t think is something many schools get right.

FW: Absolutely. I felt in actual lessons I had to be completely disciplined but in Kingfisher we were able to be relaxed more.

MF: How did you feel when you finished Livingstone school?

SC: On the one hand, it felt difficult to leave Livingstone behind as the environment was so special, and I made so many wonderful friends in both Kingfisher and the mainstream classroom. But at the same time, I remember feeling so excited to start the next chapter.

When it got to my last day of Livingstone I felt very upset but kept the promise of coming back and visiting which I always do

It’s a shame that it didn’t entirely go to plan, but I learned just how different it is to be in secondary school compared to primary school. What I will say, though, is leaving Livingstone really allowed me to understand the importance of change and growing up, and my secondary school days helped me discover myself and grow as a person, even if it meant having to overcome some challenges.

FW: It was a really hard time for me. When it got to my last day of Livingstone I felt very upset but kept the promise of coming back and visiting which I always do.

MF: Do you think beginning your education at Livingstone/Kingfisher contributed to where you are now?

SC: Absolutely! The teachers and pupils were all fantastic with me, and I really liked the way Livingstone encouraged music: I think it’s a brilliant way to learn how to work well independently and with others, develop self-confidence, and to feel comfortable to express myself.

Having gone on to study music and develop valuable skills out of it, and a career, I really owe a lot to Livingstone and Kingfisher for believing in me and helping me recognise and rise above my challenges. They made such a positive impact in ways I could not have imagined at the time.

FW: I would say Kingfisher was definitely one of the key places that helped me grow educationally. Then, when I moved to secondary, college and uni I began to push myself more.

MF: Would you recommend the Kingfisher group to anyone’s child who has had a diagnosis of autism?

SC: Absolutely! Great staff, inclusive environment, like-minded peers, fun trips out. What more could you want?

FW: 100 percent.

Many thanks to Finn and Sam for completing my questionnaire on the Kingfisher group at Livingstone School. It is clear from all our experiences there that Livingstone, clearly shaped all of our futures.

We all are in agreement that Kingfisher Resourced Provision is a very valuable source for children with a diagnosis of autism.

For more information, go to the Livingstone Primary and Nursery School website or phone them on 0208 449 2592.