Tina Waltz is the Support Lead for The Roses, an Autism Accredited service run by Hightown Housing Association, providing supported living for people with Autism and Learning Disabilities. Tina has worked at the service since it opened 15 years ago and is passionate about her job as Support Lead and role as an Autism Accredited Peer Reviewer.

Three years ago, my service (The Roses, run by Hightown Housing Association, in Drayton Parslow near Milton Keynes) was assessed by the National Autistic Society’s Autism Accreditation Review. We were reviewed by peers in other autism services so I was really pleased when we got such positive feedback, received our accreditation and honoured to be asked to become a Peer Reviewer and help assess other Autism services for a few days a year.

I’m now a Team co-ordinator which means as well as assessing a service, I also write the reports. The accreditation of a service is decided by The National Autistic Society (NAS) but we are their eyes and ears on the ground and review the practice. It’s a developmental process, rather than something like a CQC inspection. It’s more about identifying the areas where a service can get better.

It’s not just a box ticking exercise and it means you don’t rest on your laurels. The accreditation process is growing as more autism services want to be part of it.

The Roses accreditation highlighted how well we were doing and the good systems in place. However, you can always improve and I can’t help but learn from some of the excellent services I’ve visited and have shared best practice with my own team.

As Peer Reviewers, we see a lot of good practice and we all share ideas. You come away really enthused and the key is to work out how to implement a good idea into your own service while adapting it to the person you’re supporting.

The four main areas assessed are communication, self-reliance and problem solving, sensory and health and wellbeing.   

1. Communication

In terms of communication, we look at whether a scheme has bespoke systems in place, if they use visual cues or objects and give service users time to process. It’s important to use short and simple language and this might even include speaking to someone without looking at them if this supports their processing functions.

We also want to see whether they provide opportunities to interact, not just with staff, but with each other and members of the wider community.

2. Self-reliance and problem solving

Are staff supporting people to develop skills and only intervening when needed? We also need to break down tasks and offer clear beginnings and endings to activities.

It’s important to allow service users to have enough of a transition time as some people can struggle just moving from a car to a house. We should also be supporting people to develop skills and confidence in expressing their opinions and making decisions.

3. Sensory

It’s vital to give people support to overcome or cope with sensory issues as well as the opportunity to engage in sensory experiences they find enjoyable, in a safe and secure way.

We also support people to regulate their sensory experiences which cause them discomfort by helping them take sensory breaks.

4. Health and wellbeing

This means supporting people to understand their emotions in a meaningful way. By offering positive support for behaviours, we can prevent these from escalating and support people to be as happy and relaxed as possible.

We also want to see whether relationships between individuals are positive, meaningful and help foster this in others.

Finding the cause of challenging behaviour

Dealing with challenging behaviour is an important part of the job but the key is finding the cause of the behaviour. It’s something that my colleagues here at The Roses are really good at.

One of our service users has a lot of sensory issues. She loves bowling but doesn’t like the flashing lights and the noises which come with visiting a bowling alley. We didn’t want her to miss out on an activity she enjoys so after she bowls, a member of staff takes her for a walk outside and by the time she gets back it’s her turn to bowl again. That small change enables her to do something she really enjoys and regulates her sensory experience. It also helps her learn to deal with different environments. 

Another of our service users can’t stand bright patterns or the colours pink and scarlet. It’s a source of pain for her to see these colours as it impacts on her neurological receptors. Her form of communicating this may be giving someone a slap on the back. What we wear to work is really important and we always let visitors know in advance too!

Stay positive

The best advice I had is to remember that we’re in their home! Sometimes we are the only people in their lives so you have to try to come to work with a positive attitude. We’re a really important influence on whether or not they have a good day. Ultimately, that’s what drives me to continually learn from others and look for new ways to improve our service users’ lives.

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Tina Waltz