Sarah Russell, Head of Education at Orbis Education and Care, looks at the power of creativity and how it has helped continue improving outcomes for young people with autism in the post-pandemic world.
Working in residential care during the Covid 19 pandemic has been a difficult job for anyone, not least for those working with children with autism and associated learning disabilities.
When government guidelines limited movement, the people we support were unable to access the local communities they rely on so heavily. We quickly realised that we had to support those children in keeping routine and continuity if we were to continue reducing anxieties associated with their condition.
For one of our young people in particular, whose routine was to go to the shop regularly and buy their favourite soft drink, we knew stopping this kind of activity would be a great source of distress for them. So, we decided as a team to set up a simple on-site shop at one of our homes which would help the learner in question continue to develop their skills in this area.
Oriana Davies, a deputy manager here at Orbis Education and Care, also contacted the young person’s family about the suggested interim solution. The family home was over three hours away and the child’s mother had already expressed her concerns and anxieties around her son’s routine being so disrupted by the new Covid guidelines.
The on-site shop was a simple yet successful initiative that allowed the individual to remain on baseline and reduce his anxieties around not being able to shop locally, as he was used to doing. Alongside supporting his emotional wellbeing, visiting the shop also supported the continuation of our 24-hour curriculum approach to learning, as it required the ongoing use of his numeracy and literacy skills.
Over time, more everyday items like toiletries were added to the shop, allowing the young person to explore their daily living skills further. In the long-term this meant that, once restrictions were lifted, he could also be supported to transition back to using community shops, using the skills he had continued to develop during lockdown.
The concept of an on-site shopping facility has also played a crucial role during the pandemic in our most rural homes. Another of our services, Ty Bronllys, which is located near the Brecon Beacons, also has its own ‘one stop shop’ with a logo design chosen by the learners who use it.
Here, young people are still using the shop, which has become part of a vocational skills programme where they are able to complete internal work experience.
Ty Bronllys also has a barber’s shop which was originally set up to support residents and learners who are unable to access community hairdressing services. The clinical team developed and applied a desensitisation programme and worked with the class teacher and a qualified barber in order to set it up.
This commitment from our support, teaching and clinical teams in getting this initiative up and running has led to learners continuing to develop essential life skills just as the on-site shops have done. Indeed, some children are now able to go to the local barbers to have their hair cut.
These innovative practices have allowed the people we support to have the best quality of life, develop life skills and reduce their anxieties with minimal impact to their usual routines, in spite of what has been happening around them.
While the world has been in crisis, our residents and learners have continued to live their best lives all thanks to the will, tenacity – and above all creativity – of the staff and clinical expertise around them.