Learning Disabilities & Autism

Beating the Virus: support through storytelling

Every one of us has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. For people with learning disabilities and autism, who already face multiple disadvantages compared with the rest of the population, the impact has been even more acute. Although we are not working on the front line as many of you are, at Beyond Words we are doing all we can to help improve and protect lives in the way we know best: through the power of stories.

Already, early data from LeDeR indicates that people with learning disabilities are at increased risk of dying from coronavirus. It is vital that people have the support they need to understand the virus and how to keep themselves and others safe, as well as to access testing. It is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Since lockdown hit the UK, we have developed a collection of free resources for people with learning disabilities and autism, their family and carers, to support people through the pandemic.

Because we tell stories in pictures without any words, it isn’t necessary to be able to read words to follow them. Everyone will see something slightly different in the pictures, depending on their own personal experiences and feelings. There is no right or wrong. Sharing a story offers a unique insight into another person’s perspective, and provides supporters with an opportunity to better understand the person they care about, answer any questions and reduce the person’s anxiety.

  • Beating the Virus: a wordless story designed to help people understand the virus and how to protect themselves and others
  • Good Days and Bad Days During Lockdown: a collection of short picture stories taken from existing Beyond Words titles to encourage conversations around people’s experiences and feelings during lockdown and to improve wellbeing
  • Having a Test for Coronavirus: a wordless story to support understanding and enable people to share fears, ask questions and make informed choices
  • Various illustrated guides about death, dying and coronavirus for family and carers

Accompanying text for all the resources has been translated into multiple European languages, and all are freely available from our website: www.bookbeyondwords.co.uk/coping-with-coronavirus

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic is not purely a health challenge; we have all found our normal routines upended and our everyday freedoms reduced as a result of the virus. This has been especially hard for people who may find change difficult and who have fought hard for the support they need to live independent lives.

We know that sharing stories brings people together. Over the past few years, we have established a network of book clubs in libraries and community spaces across the country, providing an opportunity for people to meet and socialise at the same time as reading stories.

Since lockdown prevented these clubs from meeting in person, we have adapted and taken them online. Several clubs now meet on a regular basis via videocall to catch-up, read stories and have fun together. As Abi, one of our newest book club members, explained: “It’s a big thing for me that I’ve got friends to talk to and I’ve got things to look at. It makes me feel that I’m not left out at home.”

Our clubs are always pleased to welcome new members. Anyone wanting to find out more can find information and videos online: www.booksbeyondwords.co.uk/book-clubs

 How to read a wordless story

  1. Start at the beginning and read the story in each picture.
  2. Encourage the person/ people you are reading with to tell the story in their own words. You will discover what each person thinks is happening, what they already know and how they feel.
  3. It can help to prompt people:
  • I wonder who that is?
  • I wonder what is happening?
  • I wonder how he/ she is feeling?
  • Do you feel like that? Has it happened to you/ your friend/ your family?

We’ve created a short elearning course for anyone looking for further guidance on how to use wordless stories: www.booksbeyondwords.co.uk/elearning.

Edel Harris





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