Autism Initiatives Activity Break Project
A story by Autism Initiatives (Number 6)
We provided short breaks for groups of autistic adults who do not access short break services as part of their regular support.
The breaks provided respite for families and opportunities to learn skills in a new setting, thereby improving a range of quality of life outcomes and reducing parent/carer anxiety.
What Autism Initiatives Activity Break Project did
We did not need to recruit staff we used two of our current volunteers (also autistic adults) to support the trips. We advertised the trips in our newsletter, website and Facebook page and also through PASDA, a carers’ organisation. A variety of criteria was used to determine who was most in need, such as those who did not already receive respite funding, those with carers with long-term or crisis health conditions, those with older carers, and those with partners who were also carers.
There were two breaks of three days each at an activity centre in Cromdale, Highlands, with the opportunity for autistic adults to take part in outdoor activities such as kayaking, archery, mountain biking, zip wiring, as well as developing independent living skills such as cooking and taking care of the building.
For many, this was the first break they had taken from their carers for many years, and it highlighted to some that they needn’t be so reliant on their carers – other support was available.
Carers were not directly involved, but told us that they had more time to focus on other family members, went on holiday, met with friends, or, as one wife of an autistic adult said “I put my feet up and did absolutely nothing – it was great!”
Carers also told us that they were only able to fully relax during the breaks because they already knew our service and they (and those they cared for) felt safe with us.
The break from her husband not only gave her a weekend of seeing family (and doing nothing!) but it also demonstrated that there are services which can help their particular situation. The husband regularly uses the service, and is now using staff for help with some of the issues he had previously relied on his wife for, allowing for a less pressured relationship.
We provided transport for the trip and a member of staff spent a number of sessions getting to know him beforehand, he then felt able to attend the activity break. Over the course of the 3 days he very quickly came out of his shell and joined in all of the activities, developing a couple of friendships with people from other areas.
This gave him the confidence to attend the local drop-ins when the break was finished, he also keeps in touch with some of the group via the internet. Not only did his mum get to spend a weekend in England with her brother, but she also has more regular breaks when he attends the drop-ins, giving her more confidence that he will not be completely isolated when she is no longer here to support him.
He attended the activity break reluctantly after an ultimatum from his wife, however he developed a real love of mountain walking whilst away. Upon his return, he joined our monthly mountain walking group, but he also now regularly goes walking on his own. This has led to a clear improvement in his mental health, and his wife is far happier with the level of support she is now being asked to provide.
What Autism Initiatives (Number 6) has learnedWe have learned the importance of using varied criteria based on real need that covers as many individuals/carer groups as possible. In particular partners who are carers are often missed, when they can be more desperate for support and the individual concerned is in a more vulnerable position if the relationship breaks down.
We expected that those attending would build relationships that they could then continue when they got back to their respective One Stop Shops, but they have also continued to develop relationships with people from different areas. It has helped in the development of a cross-OSS community.
As mentioned above, one of the successes of the trips was the change to the criteria, which has led to different carer groups to become involved in the service. In particular, we have brought more partners into the service.