AN inspirational student has told how he’s achieving the ‘impossible’ at Liverpool Hope University - studying for a degree while also living with autism.
Film fanatic Lewis Jeng was given a diagnosis of autism aged 10, and also has to manage his Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).
From a young age, his prospects seemed limited at best.
His parents were told he’d never be able to sit an exam, he’d struggle to get any qualifications, and the prospect of going to university seemed implausible.
But Lewis, 20, worked hard to overcome the odds to achieve a Level 3 BTEC in Creative Media from Cheadle & Marple Sixth Form College, near Stockport, Greater Manchster.
At that point going to university still seemed out of the question.
Yet after visiting Hope - and being moved by how much the University does to look after its students - he was convinced he should enroll.
He’s now approaching the end of his first year studying for Film & Visual Culture - and hopes his journey will convince others with an autism diagnosis to follow their own dreams.
Lewis, from Stockport, explains: “I’ve learned the meaning of, ‘Never say never’.
“And I’d urge others in my position not to be put off going to university - I know I’ve already had those conversations with some of my own friends.
“I’ve come a long way and I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved.”
Lewis - whose father is also autistic - studied at Castle Hill High School, a special needs institution in Stockport.
He reveals: “My parents knew I was autistic from a very young age but I didn’t actually get diagnosed officially, through Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), until I was ten years old.
“It was a struggle. Some people assumed I was lazy, or just acting a certain way for attention.
“But everyone close to me knew it wasn’t just the ADD. I was practically a mute and really struggled to talk.
“When I was diagnosed, my parents were told I would never sit an exam of any kind.”
And yet Lewis sat five GCSEs - something he describes as ‘rare’ for his peers - and went to college for his BTEC, by way of an initial Entry Level course.
It wasn’t plain sailing, as he adds: “I was in mainstream education for the first time and it was tough. I had a little wobble.”
In the end, though, Lewis got Distinction in his BTEC - a success that surprised a lot of people - not least his former teachers.
Even then, university wasn’t on his radar.
Lewis, who’s worked previously in a film production studio, admits: “Leading up to college, I always had it in my mind that it was impossible for me to go to university.
“I thought, ‘It’s not going to happen. Don’t even process it. I’m going to leave college and work as hard as I can to try and get a job’.
“That was the plan because I didn’t think I could cope with university. I didn’t think there’d be the support, and I didn’t think I’d get the grades.
“But then in March 2019, I visited Hope because my girlfriend is here studying too.
“And something happened. I took a liking to the campus, my girlfriend - who has epilepsy - told me about how good the support network is, and the whole thing began to intrigue me.
“I planned a proper visit and spoke with the student support team - and came away thinking, ‘Wow, this a pretty special place!’
“I told my tutor at college, ‘I think I want to go to university’... and he just looked at me as if to say, ‘Really!?’
“I was late applying, but within a week I’d written my personal statement, submitted my application, and by the summer I was here.”
Since arriving on campus, Lewis has been supported by Hope in a number of ways.
He’s got access to software that enables him to write more efficiently, in order for him to get his thoughts across succinctly, as well as software that translates his speech into written text.
Other software reads written words back to Lewis so he can process it, while he’s received funding for computer hardware, too.
Lewis has also been given a Learning Support Plan (LSP) which provides him with a mentor from Student Support, who he meets regularly to talk through any wellbeing issues.
He says: “I go to see her for lots of reasons, whether it’s concerns about exams or homework or even if I’m just having a bad day.
“When I first started, I had doubts that I was doing the right thing. My support mentor even arranged for a meeting with a tutor, and went with me to that meeting.
“Long story short, it convinced me to continue what I’m doing - and I’m so glad I did.
“There’s also free counselling on offer, too, which has been really helpful.”
Lewis also praises the ‘personal’ touch at Hope, adding: “When you think of university, you think of huge lecture theatres and impersonal, intimidating campuses.
“But at Hope, you almost get one-to-one learning time with tutors - and it’s been life-saving for me.
“It gives you a personal feel to the course, but it also provides a real support mechanism. You feel a part of something amazing.”
If Lewis is rightly chuffed with his achievements, so are teachers from his old school.
He says: “When Castle Hill caught wind that I was going to university, it was quite a big deal for them!
“They’ve invited me back to talk to both parents and students, and I can’t wait to share my experiences.
“I get the impression that it’s not very often that people from that school end up at university.
“And I want to show that your pathways aren’t always as limited as you might think they are.”
To find out more about Lewis’ chosen course, head here: