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Support centre for Asperger's is a winner

A college's dedicated support centre for students with Asperger's Syndrome has been praised for setting a national example in widening participation.

City College Norwich won the Association of Colleges' president's award after it expanded from 18 to 120 the number of students on the autistic spectrum that it taught. The disorder affects communication and social interaction.

In addition to its specialised courses, the college believes its facilities, dubbed the Rug Room, have encouraged students with Asperger's to be more open about their disability and helped them to develop better communication and social skills.

The Pounds 200,000 space, built with Learning and Skills Council funding, was envisaged and designed by its students as an all-day respite room, but has also become a place for them to mingle and improve their communication in a familiar environment.

Last year, 97 per cent of students with autistic spectrum disorders finished their courses, with 88 per cent gaining qualifications.

City College Norwich also runs a dedicated course for autistic students, designed to develop the skills to prepare them for mainstream qualifications.

Danusia Latosinski, the centre's programme manager, said: "We are attracting people from further and further away. But we don't want people travelling miles to come to us. What we want is for other colleges to have the same facilities.

"We had designers come in to do the rooms, and with all the information technology it came to Pounds 200,000. But before that we had an ordinary room and second-hand furniture and that worked as well - that's how we started."

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