To mark Autism Awareness Week, we got an insight from Hightown Operations Manager Zoe Collins into working with adults with autism. Zoe has worked in care & support for over 18 years and manages our Stokebury House and White Lion Rd schemes.
"At Stokebury House in particular, the majority of our service users have high functioning autism. We provide person-centred planning which is based around what is important to the individual. The plan shows what is important to them now, in the future and what support they need.
Just because you can't see a physical difference...
"Because you often can’t see any difference in someone physically, many people assume that they don’t have support needs. A lot of people can perceive adults with autism as rude but it is simply because they don’t cope well socially. If they could spend a day in their shoes, I’m sure they would find it much easier to understand.
"For example, one resident has difficulty going shopping. This isn’t because he’s not capable of shopping, but he finds it difficult when, for example, someone takes something off the shelf while he is looking at it and feels they are being rude and may become upset.
It's important to break things down...
“One of the main areas of support is helping our service users understand different social circumstances. It can be especially important to break information down for them. We also aim to help them with their emotions and understanding their feelings.
"With one resident, since he moved into Stokebury House, it’s been amazing to watch his confidence grow and how he has become really independent. He volunteers at a local radio station and is a drummer in a band. He has also been on a job interview skills course and has even started working one day a week as a window cleaner. It has been a great relief for his parents that he has settled in so well here."
It is different to bipolar or schizophrenia...
"There is more of an awareness of autism now. Previously, it would have been put in the same category as mental health but it is much different to conditions such as bipolar and schizophrenia. Staff are more skilled to support service users socially and there are a lot more organisations offering help.
"One aspect which could be improved is psychological support for adults with high functioning autism as there are far less specialists in this area. For example, cognitive behavioural therapy doesn’t work as well with someone with autism as they often can’t change the way they think."
My advice to new care and support staff...
"Having patience is so important. You need to get to know people as everyone is different.
It really is key how you communicate as sometimes just one word can be a trigger for them. It is important that their preferred way of communicating is taken into account. Completing all your training is vital and you need to make sure you read their support plans and positive behaviour plans."