We have a 8-bed housing project in Bath for Adults with a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders it encourages and enables residents to move towards independent living by improving life skills.
We interviewed one of the support workers to get an idea of the service and what it offers:
What type of support do you provide?
The support we provide comes from two facets: emotional and administrative. Our clients all have a diagnosis of ASD, so we aim to help clients cope with their restrictive behaviours, language and communication issues, and social interaction difficulties. We handle these problems with scheduled emotional support sessions that are dedicated to discussing the realities of their world and how they are experiencing it.
Being vulnerable members of society, our clients often rely on the state for financial support, which means they must endure all the paperwork, formal meetings, and assessments that most Julian House clients must do. This process is stressful enough for neurotypical individuals but once impairments in communication and social interaction are factored in, it becomes much worse. That is where we would come in to ease the difficulties and provide a blueprint for how those interactions should go.
What is the aim of this service?
Our clients all suffer to different degrees the triad of impairments that come with ASD. The aim of our support is to provide them with the capacity to manage these impairments for independent living.
What is the level of support?
We would be classified as low-medium support, all our clients are verbal (which is not always typical for people with ASD) so we do not have to have interpreters or spend too long on those most fundamental language acquisitions. We work in the project 5 days a week from 9-5. Our structured working pattern is beneficial for the clients as we are a regular and secure part of their life, people that they can rely on.
How has COVID affected this service?
The clients in this project have suffered from similar problems as most people. Some of our clients lost jobs, which interferes with their schedules and life routines. Some were restricted from seeing family and friends, as social isolation is very common in our clients losing access to the small social bubbles that they had was very challenging for the members of the house. Clients lost access to beneficial ASD services that were closed due to social distancing as well.
Why may someone with Autism need supported accommodation like this?
Psychological knowledge on ASD has been all over the place over the last couple of years, by which I mean that there is still much debate in the academic community regarding the most basic knowledge on the subject. Therefore, you can only imagine just how little the typical person knows about the subject. Our clients have all had to endure prejudices and shortcomings from people in their life’s that didn’t understand anything about people with ASD. From close friends to government officials, all our clients have face situations where they could do with someone by their side that is dedicated to helping them with their social difficulties. That is this project.
What are some of the key challenges your clients face?
Our clients face similar problems to those who find themselves in the service of Julian house. Challenges with the benefit system, housing association, and future planning. The challenges unique to our clients are directly related to their ASD. Our client’s aims are to secure their own tenancy, their own work, and be their own person, however these goals are often dependent on what would be described as “competent” language skills, which isn’t fair on our clients.
Prejudice and discrimination in the workplace are still very common among those on the spectrum, and employers can take advantage of this by overworking our clients and denying them chances to improve their career progression.
The benefit system has sadly not caught up to the needs of our clients. Many of them require a benefit named PIP which assessment method isn’t tailored to the issues that people with ASD suffer with. Also, the application process is long and mentally stressful for our clients, a process that they are forced to repeat every two years in case their lifelong condition of ASD somehow dissipates.
ASD can come with various other mental health problems such as anxiety disorder, depression, or BDD. These develop more commonly in people with ASD because of the social interaction impairments they have to cope with, it can be scary enhancing your social circles when you have no mental blueprint for how friendships should work. It can be difficult going out with people that cannot understand if you have sensory issues that impact when and where you can go.
How do you help them overcome these?
The most important thing to take away is that ASD should be understood as a different way of thinking from the typical, the world has been built by and for the neurotypical, and there is a long history of discrimination against those to differ from the status quo. At this project we aim to do better, to show our often-downtrodden clients what compassionate and understanding people should be.
Our communication with the clients is one of the most important aspects of our role, we need to know if people in their lives are taking advantage of them or making their life complicated, we would typically get involved and handle complex discussions on behalf of the client. If the employer, worker, or even GP in some cases refuse to change their careless neurocentric behaviour. We as support staff would follow up complaints’ procedures on behalf of the client. We will stay with them through all the social interactions that can be terrifying for them, be by their side when they need someone next to them.
We know what we can do and what we can’t do, another big aspect of our role is inter-cooperation with other agencies. If we have a client that has mental health needs beyond our ability to help, we record what we can and refer those details to mental health professionals, be a part of their support plans and help set up care in the bigger picture.
Can you tell me about one client you have helped in particular? What was their situation, how did you help and what are they doing now?
At the time one of our clients was working part-time in a small shop and I rarely spoke to us about what they wanted to do with their future. After several weeks of building trust and rapport, just by talking in passing and giving him his space, he showed me his portfolio and it was clear that he had such a talent and passion for graphic design. He wasn’t happy in his place of work and wanted to do something more with his life. We applied for him to attend a creative arts college in Bristol, to get more experience and build up his contacts in the area. In preparation for the interviews and social interactions, we practiced weekly social scenarios that might come up in the college day, so that he was better prepared for the experience. We practiced presentations for his coursework and how to respond and emotionally handle any feedback. After a long search, he finally found a property on a home search near his parents. He moved on from this project with the courage to pursue his passions, as well as the chance to live on his own.