A blog from Clare, Senior Community Support Worker in our Supported Living service…
Autism is something we think about every week here at the MioCare Group, in fact it’s at the forefront of our minds when planning and delivering care for the people we support. We’re proud that our Supported Living service continues to be officially accredited by the National Autistic Society.
This World Autism Awareness Week, I wanted to share some of our staff and service user’s experience and learning through the last year, as we’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before I introduce you to John, I wanted to highlight the approach that underpins the Group’s care delivery:
We continue our mission of “supporting people to get the most out of life” and our approach is based around three H’s…
When COVID-19 hit the UK a year ago, I’ll admit that me and my colleagues were worried about how the need to isolate/shield coupled with the shutdown of so many community-led activities, would affect the people we support. We weren’t the only ones. Many organisations here in Oldham and across the country expressed concern about how people with complex needs would cope with big changes to their routines and lifestyle, including those who live with autism.
So, what is autism? Defining it isn’t always easy!
In fact, by definition it’s a spectrum condition and affects people in different ways:
We support a number of individuals who are on the autistic spectrum. Despite understanding how it can make a difference to people’s daily lives (in relation to communication, social interaction and flexibility of thinking) it’s certainly not a case of ‘one size fits all’.
For example – six people who suffer a broken leg will experience similar short-term difficulties in that they can’t mobilise and move like they used to. But the lives of six individuals with autism will not all be affected in the same way as each other.
One gentleman we know living with autism in one of our houses is John. Prior to the pandemic, John took part in a full range of activities and was supported with these in the local community by his own personal assistants. He was supported to go for drives in his car, to shop in the supermarket, attend art class, swim at the local pool and go to the gym.
His daily activities were very structured to provide routine and to ensure that he knew what was happening next. His communication was limited and repetitive and change was something that could be difficult for him to process and cope with.
Once home from his activities, John often needed a lot of reassurance and emotional support. He’d ask the same questions numerous times (of numerous people) and could struggle to settle, exhibiting real anxiety. Our staff know him well and are able to pick up on the sometimes subtle changes to his behaviour, using different strategies to help him relax and settle.
Since the beginning of lockdown (March 2020), John has been fully supported by our staff team in his Supported Living property. Due to restrictions and his shielding status his daily routines had to change and this meant a very different approach to daily life. Initially, we were concerned about how these changes would impact him but we have been able to use this opportunity to review and change our approach and develop creative alternatives to some of his usual activities...
He’s developed new skills and enjoys using them. John’s always liked watching cooking programmes but now he’s choosing what to cook and with some support he’s preparing food, as well as cooking and baking it too! The act of going into a supermarket has been replaced by online shopping which he enjoys. He waits each week for his chosen items to arrive and then unpacks them and puts them away. His appetite has greatly improved too, which is great to see.
He’s sleeping better and sometimes has a lie-in if he wants one. He’s frequently out and about in the community, going for walks and visits to local parks. This enables him to exercise and enjoy not only the fresh air but also the conversation with the staff who accompany him. What we have found is that he is now calmer, settled and more relaxed. His communication has improved and instead of “yes”/”no” answers he’s not only engaging in meaningful conversation with us but instigating it too!
We’ve learned a lot during the course of this year and in John’s case, we have seen that sometimes – less is more. Certainly, a less formal structure, if not less actual activity. His anxieties are far reduced when fewer demands are placed on him and he is able to be flexible about how and when he does things. In thinking about how his autism impacts upon him, a quieter and slower pace of life seems to really suit John.
Going forward and as the world changes again, we will be sure to keep what we’ve learned in mind and to continue supporting people, including John, to get the most out of life.