After going off to the big smoke for a few months I returned in March 1988 to start my career which has spanned four decades and seen the organisation through Wirral Autistic Society and now Autism Together. During this time I have worked across most of the residential and supported living projects in one capacity or another and have been a registered manager for supported living from its beginning in 2008.
In the early days as a support worker in Raby Hall, there were three ‘resie’s’ to a bedroom and everyone had a care plan for brushing their teeth stuck to the inside of their wardrobe door. There was no such thing as 1:1support and we spent many a glorious Sunday afternoon inventing opportunities to have a garden party with the swimming pool open, a giant bouncy castle on top lawn and a box of ice lollies. Three staff were trying to occupy 21 people.
Times have changed over the years as expectations to deliver outcomes continue to increase and these days the individuals we support get a much more person-centred service.
The people I have met over the years have taught me so much about myself and how to communicate with people regardless of whether or not they have autism and many of the specialist strategies I have learned, I have used in my everyday life. In particular, using now and next strategies at home to get my son to get ready for school has avoided the inevitable roar of ‘get you shoes on’ for the twentieth time.
Acknowledging processing time is another strategy I recognise in myself. I’m confident enough now to say to people that I need time to process something before I respond. Keeping instructions short and simple (KISS) is also a strategy I use often in my work life when managing staff teams to ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them.
Each individual with autism has taught me something new and I continue to strive to understand how their autism impacts them and the best ways we can help them to achieve their goals. I have learned that sometimes you need to dig deep to find out what the real problem is. Once, someone we supported really struggled with a particular member of staff and did not want them to support him. After spending some time with him trying to establish what the problem was, it turned out he was extremely sensitive to smell and the staff member liked to wear quite strong aftershave. That was quite an easy fix but it is not always easy to find out the real reason behind the problem.
One of the things I am most proud of is the journey of one of the first people we were involved with in supported living, who came to us as a virtual recluse. He struggled with relationships and hygiene and felt he had no purpose in life. After a few years and a fantastic, dedicated staff team, he now has his own flat, access the community on a regular basis (both with support and independently) and is involved in a personal relationship. Sometimes you need to take the time to look back to see how far someone has come.
When I have thought about undertaking a fundraising challenge in the past that would be physically exerting, I came up with all sorts of reasons why I couldn’t do it but then I thought about the challenges the people we support face every single day, just to try and make sense of a world that can be so alien to them in so many ways. Some of my friends and family have walked the Great Wall of China and undertaken similar challenges so when the opportunity came to raise money and awareness for Autism Together it just felt like it was too good an opportunity to miss.
In preparation for this trip and to keep momentum going with respect to sponsorship and donations, I have been and will continue to undertake some ‘mini challenges’. The first was the 15 mile Wirral coastal walk which I completed in June, secondly was a 5K colour run in July and the next planned event is abseiling down Leasowe Lighthouse in September, all with the company and amazing support of my son Max (almost 12). Watch this space for what comes next….
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