Back to The Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2018

Romana Thomas

Category: Work and education

Romana has inspired many of those around her to have careers in supporting people.

Will Romana challenge your stereotypes?

“I got home last week and all my sitting room cushions had been cut open. Romana had used the stuffing to plump up her own embroidered scatter cushions. Our house has become something of a shrine to her artwork – there’s buttons everywhere and I love it!” Romana’s mum Angela.

Romana is a severely disabled young woman with very little speech who continues to push those around her change their own lives, and raise their expectations of hers.

“Romana has inspired many of those around her to have careers in supporting people” says mum Angela.

“She lights up rooms with energy and laughter, and having met her, many of her PAs and teaching assistants have gone on to develop careers in care.”

As a child, like so many people in her position, Romana hated change. “I remember coming back from trying to take her to the park,” says Angela, “tears running down my face. She was fearful of new environments and her only means of communicating it was some very challenging behaviour.

“But we persevered and eventually – eventually – I think she became confident that she could control new environments if needs be.

“One of her few words is ‘home’ and she uses this – and we always act on it – if she’s really feeling uncomfortable anywhere. But her hobbies include singing, kayaks and pottery – it’s fair to say that she now embraces most new things.”

That’s not to say that she’s a big fan of change. “She likes her routine,” says Angela, “She uses a monthly calendar and a Novochat communications aid allied to some basic signs.

“Together with a good bit of body language, we can usually communicate pretty well. One thing we can’t do – because it causes her great confusion – is talk about the past. Romana is all about the future, and that’s a great way to approach life!”

Romana is just entering year 3 at Bridgend college, where she is a weekly boarder. “Initially, the professionals around us felt that Romana would need to be in a long stay college,” recalls Angela.

“I was against that – I thought she wouldn’t understand what was going on around her. But Bridgend were happy to assess her for weekly boarding and to all of our surprises, she passed with flying colours. She was even their ‘student of the year’ in her 1st year!”

College has taught Romana a strong set of life skills, including building and maintaining friendships. “She couldn’t wait to get back to college after the summer holidays,” recalls mum, “She needs to be challenged and developed as well as having fun – college is a great environment for her and I can see her development week by week.

“It’s especially pleasing to see that she can develop meaningful relationships with her peers.”

Romana, to be honest, is one of the lucky ones. Too many people in Romana’s position would by now have transitioned from children’s to adult services, with all the consequent funding changes. Angela had to fight hard even for this 3rd year at college.


“I feel Romana’s story, she embraces her life as it is rather than as many would wish it to be. I think, from the story, Romana is summed up in those four words: determination, quickness, energy, and love for life. Keep reaching for the stars.” – Leaders’ List 2019 Judge

“It was lovely to read about Romana’s success in overcoming the challenges she faces. To have won Student of the Year is really impressive and a great indicator of how well thought of she is. I wish her every continued success both at her work placement and at college.” – Leaders’ List 2019 Judge


In the press

Get in touch about this story

If you’ve got any question for us about this story, or you’d like more information then please do get in touch.