Developing Skills Through Activities
A story by Perth Autism Support SCIO
We provided a range of social opportunities for autistic children and young people to allow them to have a fun in a supportive environment that aimed to build confidence, decrease social isolation and build peer friendships.
Our groups have been delivered both online and face to face throughout 2020/21.
What Developing Skills Through Activities did
We delivered a range of group social activities, predominantly online until Summer 2020 when we could resume small group work for the children and young people who were most vulnerable and those children of key workers. We have continued to deliver this blended model of activities throughout the year, in line with Scottish Government Covid-19 recommendations.
Our online activities took place on MS Teams, which was a more secure way for supporting young people in line with our Safeguarding Policies and we developed a range of electronic consent and policies for parents/carers and young people to allow them secure access to social opportunities. The team developed a range of creative online groups including youth theatre and cooking, as well as Escape Rooms and online quizzes.
For face to face support, we had to work around a range of guidelines to keep our team and the children and young people safe. This meant that we were delivering much smaller groups than we would usually but they were still as varied and fun as always! We have had to ensure that our building is also meeting Covid guidelines with signage, separate resources for each young person, PPE and all related policies, we were further impacted by having to seek alternative venues due to flooding of our centre over winter.
By delivering continued support either online or face to face, we ensured that we not only continued to support and develop relationships with the children and young people but through an incredibly tough year, it meant that parents/carers could take a break from the continued home learning, home working and managing households, whilst dealing with their own worries around the pandemic. The opportunity to even just step out side the room to enjoy a quiet cup of tea was mentioned numerous times in our evaluations.
Our project addressed the following priority areas: transition to adulthood, complex needs, independence. Our activities continued despite restrictions and have been a continued success for the children and young people, particularly by offering a range of flexible choices to ensure that each child/young person had an opportunity to be supported.
What Perth Autism Support SCIO has learned
Delivering this project has been a real learning curve for the staff team as we have had to pivot service delivery to meet Scottish Government restrictions whilst still ensuring the high quality specialist support we provide. The team have had to learn how to deliver groups effectively online and we learned that there were a number of young people who were unable to access support this way due to their existing communication differences. This led to a higher demand for one to one support, which allowed us to stay connected with our children and young people, whilst still giving some respite support to parents/carers.
This continued engagement will mean that when we do return to larger face to face groups, this transition should be easier for young people as they have maintained relationships with the staff team. The opportunity to deliver online, however, allowed some young people who have previously struggled to engage with larger, face to face groups to be able to access services for the first time and through this learning, as we move out of restrictions, we intend to continue to have an online offer for young people to offer choice and flexibility, this was particularly positive for teens and those who have increased anxiety/mental health barriers.
How Perth Autism Support SCIO has benefitted from the funding
Our organisation has benefitted enormously from the Better Breaks Funding, as it has allowed us to continue to deliver a range of supports for children, young people and their families. The pressure of Covid-19 and the challenges within households that this has brought, meant that we had a sharp increase in supporting families, particularly around stress and mental health, and the break in the day to access either online or face to face support meant that there was designated time for each family member to do something out with the household unit. The funding also allowed us to deliver the right services at the right time for families, depending on their own individual needs. It also allowed our team to explore new ways of working, some of which will change our service provision moving forward on a regular basis.
200 autistic children and young people will have increased social opportunities, the chance to build and maintain peer friendships and support networks, be more confident and less socially isolated.
178 autistic children and young people had access to social opportunities which were delivered both online and face to face based on Scottish Government Covid-19 restrictions. A range of social opportunities were delivered to young people including cookery, social groups, outdoor activities and creative learning.
H was referred by the Paediatric Department and has been registered with PAS since February 2018. H has been diagnosed as autistic and also with Beckwith Wiederman Syndrome which he has had 2 surgeries for. H has enjoyed attending both term time and holiday activities and groups. Initially H had no verbal communication and would gesture or lead staff to get what he wanted or to indicate his needs. He displayed barriers in listening and sitting for any length of time and required support to manage this. Often H would engage with staff as opposed to the other children at the group and would focus on staff during any activity, preferring to stay close to them. He would become upset and frustrated when he was trying to communicate his needs and staff adopted a variety of pictorial aids to help him socialise. H would seek isolation and draw and play on his own. H now fully engages at the groups he attends and is able to communicate verbally and appropriately. He is very polite and will listen to advice and direction given. He can sit and participate in group discussions and contribute with prompting from the staff present. He will now interact with the other children at the group and take part in games and activities. H’s confidence and self-esteem has really grown and he always rates his time at his group as 100%. His parents report that he is much happier and more settled at home and at school using the skills he has developed at Perth Autism Support. Recently H has expressed he is struggling to manage emotions he doesn’t understand, therefore one of his outcomes is to support H to identify, understand, express and manage his feelings. With the support of Perth Autism Support to achieve this aim, both H and his family will experience the long term benefits of this outcome .
450 parent carers and young carers will have time each week to take part in activities that encourage and develop self-care or that allow time together doing activities that perhaps an autistic sibling would find challenging to take part in.
392 parent carers and young carers benefited from time each week with children and young people spending time within the social opportunities offered. This was particularly important through Covid-19, where families reported a rise in stress and anxiety in the whole household with particular challenges with home learning, managing family relationships and having their usual support networks drastically reduced.
M is a 16 year old young man who has been diagnosed as autistic since the age of 5 with a co-occurring diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder from the age of 11. M lives with a high level of stress on a daily basis which needs to be continually supported by his parents. M is a very academically able young man but struggles with the school environment and has since the start of his education journey been unable to undertake homework tasks, for him, home is a safe space where he can relax and calm and not somewhere he wants to bring the stress of school in to. Whilst M was happy to not have to go to school, the home learning aspect for him was very challenging which meant the household were living with high levels of anxiety throughout the lockdown periods in 2020 and at the start of 2021. As both M's parents work full time, they were finding it increasingly difficult to encourage home learning, work and deal with all the emotions of the pandemic. M accessed online groups with Perth Autism Support throughout this time and through the groups had the opportunity to connect with peers and staff and was able to talk about his frustrations and anxieties with people out with the family home. This meant that he was able to hear support, advice and information from the staff, to have an understanding that many of his peers felt the same and he was not alone. Importantly, the groups gave the family focus each week with the parents able to have some time to focus on other areas of family life, get shopping, make phone calls to family and friends, knowing that M was safe, happy and secure attending his online groups. The family reported that knowing that there was a point in the week where they all felt the "pressure was off" was integral to all of their wellbeing throughout the pandemic lockdown.
200 families – children, young people, sibling young carers and parent carers will have opportunities to build their own social opportunities, their own peer networks and their own self care plans
178 benefitted from attending social opportunities offered. For some young people the high anxiety they experienced through the Covis-19 pandemic, meant that they struggled to participate in group activities and the staff team worked with this group of young people individually to build confidence and slowly encourage them to join groups and wider social opportunities at a time that was right for them with the support mechanisms they needed to have a positive experience. This meant that for carers of this group of young people, they had the opportunity to feel much more supported throughout the year and to feel that due to the support they were more able to sustain their caring role.
J began engaging with staff on a 1:1 basis in the summer of 2020 although he had been registered with PAS since December 2019 and had enjoyed face to face sessions in Music and Drama previously. J was socially isolated and avoided situations where he would be expected to interact with others preferring to remain at home with his Mum. He was extremely anxious and had very poor self-esteem, J overthinks situations and becomes quite overwhelmed affecting his levels of engagement. Through music, his Perth Autism Support keyworker discovered he was able to focus on a task without the social pressure to engage or converse with others. The staff who worked with him identified and developed strategies to help him cope with situations where he felt he was pressurised to engage, particularly with social contact out with his family and with education. They recognised that he responded well to jokes and silly behaviour and sent him pre recorded videos and messages to encourage and develop his communication skills and build relationships with him. As he becomes overwhelmed and will disengage, they took everything at J's pace and played to his strengths and areas of interest such as music and drama. J relied heavily on his Mum to answer questions on his behalf, and communicate when his anxiety levels were high .At times his Mum would start preparing J for his sessions an hour in advance as he would often disengage at the last minute or refuse to come out of his room. Initially, during the sessions J would sit off camera with his Mum at his side and found it difficult to engage for long. J would often leave the session and retreat to his room when he was unable to engage in the session. It was identified that J’s Mum would benefit from support to deal with these situations and she received help from the Family Support Service to help her understand underlying reasons for presenting behaviours. They also helped her explore her own feelings and frustrations, fears and concerns for J, helping develop coping strategies and approaches she could adopt . J's PAS keyworker prepared each session and emailed in advance to ensure he was clear about the expectations and format of the session . Afterwards she would email his Mum to ask how J felt after each session . Initially J struggled to engage, therefore, his keyowrker liaised with his Mum and sent him messages and resources she felt would be helpful, giving him the option of responding through different mediums. J was initially very shy but once he had developed a good relationship with his keyworker and felt comfortable in her company, he played her a self-composed song on his guitar and his sessions became longer and more interactive. J continues to find social interaction stressful and he will avoid this , but with the help of strategies developed in his 1:1 sessions he is slowly becoming more confident and engaging, with the aim of attending small groups next term supported by his keyworker. Mum has reported that she feels much less stressed knowing that there is a support network in place for both her and her son, as his reliance on her to always be with him lessens, she is able to give him time and space to develop skills, relationships and confidence independently and feels much more able to understand how best to support J moving forward. This has helped the situation at home, as J’s relationship with his Mum has improved and it is less stressful and demanding when J is expected to socially interact with others .