Autism Initiatives Lothian Short Break Project
A story by Autism Initiatives Scotland
To date we have delivered 2, two night/three day activity breaks / respite trips for 20 individuals from Edinburgh, Lothians and the Borders. The activities on each trip were selected by the individuals and we covered hill walking, mountain biking, canoeing, map reading and orienteering over the two trips away.
In addition, we also focused on essential life skills (cooking, cleaning, planning, social skills and essential relaxation) whilst staying at the Cromdale Centre. Individual feedback as well as feedback from parents/carers has been excellent.
To assist individuals to express preferences and make decisions about things that affect them on a relatively short scale. To provide opportunities to practise independent living skills, encourage engagement in physical activity and promote healthy eating. To develop confidence by trying new things and encouraging individuals to take responsibility for aspects of the short break.
Tip 1:Plan your activity weekends thoroughly in advance, supporting, encouraging and engaging with your potential participants throughout the process.
Tip 2:Ensure that all possible participants and parent/carers have detailed information regarding the timings and content of your activity break well in advance of the event.
Tip 3:Do not be afraid to be led by your participants when planning, it is their activity break! In addition, always have a "Plan B" for any given day which accounts for poor weather.
Another participant, who we know spends a lot of time on his computer, enjoyed the activities and re-learned how to ride a bike on the weekend as it had been a number of years since he had ridden one. His mum, by way of a parental feedback form, commented that "My son really enjoyed the outdoor activities, he normally spends a lot of time in front of a computer - it has given him the confidence to try new things and really hopes that he can participate in more activity weekends in the future!" Another participant commented that "I have realised that physical exercise can be fun! It has increased my self confidence and given me a sense of independence".
Another participant's parents stated that "It was great to know that our son was away enjoying himself, making friends and having the support that he needed. We were able to properly relax for the first time in a long time".
Another service user's parents commented that "This weekend was a huge benefit to us as a family. We were able to spend quality time together without having to consider my son's needs, in the knowledge that he was being well supported".
One of the participants parents also commented that "our son being away for the weekend relieved tensions that had built up between us all as a family - it gave us some much needed respite!"
Another of the participant's parents said that having access to this type of supported break for their son made a huge difference to their year and added to the feeling that there is support out there that can make a difference.
In addition we had to ensure that we provided a plan B for each day's activities in order that we provided for the potentiality for individuals who may have had a change of heart about taking part in an activity when away. It was also crucial for us to ensure that our participants were encouraged, reassured and supported in both the activity setting as well as within the residential setting - monitoring and evaluating throughout each day.
We ensured that there was plenty of "downtime" during the course of the evenings, which led to a lot of creativity from the participants as to how to use that time. In addition to the main chosen activities of Hill Walking, Canoeing, Orienteering and Mountain Biking, an impromptu night walk around the village of Cromdale (with head torches), games of football, basketball, table tennis and a cinema night,all suggested by participants individually and agreed upon by the group, were enjoyed.
Taking a flexible approach and ensuring that the opinions of all participants were taken into account was paramount, leading to an organic, inclusive feel at each of the activity breaks.
Furthermore, the activity weekends provided a sense of control for the participants over the weekends away where they were given responsibilities and supported to make choices and challenge themselves in a supported environment. Friendships have been born out of the weekends away, improving confidence, self esteem and well being.
One unanticipated benefit was the staff team getting a much fuller picture of the individuals who came on the breaks than expected, thus enabling us to better support them in their continued use of our service at Hill Street.
Additional support needs included, depression, anxiety, self harm as well as medication for a variety of mental health issues.