AUTISTIC students thanked their school for teaching life skills and self-acceptance.

A ceremony at LVS Oxford saw leavers praise staff for equipping them with confidence as well as qualifications.

The specialist Begbroke school hosted an event celebrating achievements of sixth-formers, who are now set for new adventures.

Head girl Holly Balchin addressed classmates, parents and special guests with a moving speech.

The 17-year-old said: "When I first started here I was a very unconfident 14-year-old who hated school and despised the idea of ever stepping into one again.

"I refused to accept the fact I had a diagnosis of autism. It wasn't something I talked to anyone about, but over the past few years I have learned more about autism and what it really means. It's not something to be ashamed of and I'm slowly learning to embrace it."

Speaking at a ceremony the Thursday before last, she added: "One of the things I love most is how we are treated as individuals – we are not put into a box.

"LVS might have been a short chapter of my life but it's one I will treasure forever."

She is set to continue her education in September at Henley College.

Her speech was followed by similar praise from head boy Charlie Goode, who has accepted a place at Oxford Brookes University.

Louisa Allison-Bergin, head of school at LVS, said: "This year we have seen so much improvement and development in our learners that we are delighted to honour that.

"Charlie and Holly's speeches were very moving and they are fine examples of what young people with autism can achieve with the right education: happy and confident, and leaving equipped with qualifications ready to progress on to bright futures."

The school teaches people on the autistic spectrum aged between 11 and 19 years old.

Its leaving ceremony was attended by The Revd Nathan Jarvis of St Bartholomew's Church in Yarnton, and members of Parents Talking Asperger's community group.

Students were given certificates and trophies while some also performed musical pieces for the audience.