When Christopher Harris appeared on Channel 4's Educating the East End, he impressed viewers with how well he deals with school, with the help of his teaching assistant, Ayesha Choudhury. We caught up with them at Frederick Bremer School in London to talk about Christopher's progress in Year 11 and his passion for art.
Were you surprised at the reaction to Educating The East End?
C – At first, I was quite embarrassed! The TV producers showed it to us before the scheduled time, so that prepared me a bit.
A – The producers sent me some of the tweets and I was just overwhelmed. I passed them on to Christopher's mum; lovely comments from people.
Christopher, when did MsAyesha start supporting you?
Year 7. She's given a great contribution to the three of us: me, Darius and Jordan. She's really helped us go through a lot of downs and ups. It's soon going to be our exams and she's trying her best to prepare us.
How does she help you?
C – When I feel quite upset, not able to do anything, she will motivate me and give me advice. She's taught me to always think positive, have some discipline in anything that you hope to aspire to; you can get it if you keep your eyes on the goal.
Ayesha, what do you say if Christopher is feeling a bit down?
I'll just remind him how capable he is. I tell him that every single person on this planet has negative thoughts and sometimes these are more powerful than on other days and we just have to overcome them and remind ourselves that we can achieve whatever we want. Sometimes these little nags, I love to call them 'little worms', seem to come along and want to take over, but we kick them out.
Christopher, how can having autism make things difficult for you at school?
Learning can be difficult as some students can distract you. Ms Ayesha says I should consider my learning and not them, because in the end they are focusing on themselves, so why shouldn't I? Last year when there was noise, I took it really aggressively, to the point of kicking chairs, leaving the classroom, slamming the door. Now I can handle it more.
Ayesha, how does the school adapt to support Christopher?
A - Christopher doesn't have some lessons. In that time we have extra lessons so we can give some support with the core subjects. They also do arts awards now, which is a fantastic way to develop the students' talents, and help them let off steam.
It's quite pressured in Key Stage 4 for your average student, so for our students, it's a double whammy where they're overwhelmed on a daily basis. Doing arts awards helps them to calm down. During break and lunchtimes, a lot of our students don't like going out into the big playground, so we've got classrooms where we all sit down and eat together, and a chill out room with beanbags which we made ourselves.
Christopher, are you going to study art at college?
I hope to continue my art and do design and animation. Hopefully when I go to college, I'll pick up more interests. I have a big interest in science and maths too.
Do you feel you can be yourself at school?
Of course, I don't feel that I'm concealed at all to be something I'm not, I can just be a free individual, that's the vibe I get from the school. I don't have any regrets at all. I can live as positively as I like. That's got better over the years.
I think that's the main aim. I've always thought in life that if someone's wellbeing is looked after, everything else follows automatically. If someone's feeling as if they don't belong or they don't feel safe, happy or wanted, it's a bit difficult to progress in any area. For me, I'm very passionate about making sure they feel they belong here, that we're a team, and they can turn to us.
What would you say if someone was struggling at school?
C – A sign of struggling is a sign you're improving, because when you struggle, you persevere. Appreciate those who help you, because without them, what are you really? And appreciate yourself, who you are.