Reaching Further With Reach4Reality
A story by Reach4Reality
We worked with young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, providing outdoor activities for them across the Highlands. This include, 1:1 work, small group activities, weekend camps, 5 day camps, evening activities, he Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and a family camp.
What Reaching Further With Reach4Reality did
During the year we worked with 8 young people with Autism Spectrum Disorder who were not receiving self-directed-support, 6 already known to us, 2 from our waiting list. This involved regular 1:1 activities with the Project Worker (including walking, badminton, biking) plus longer small group activities ranging from day activities-overnight stays-weekend and 5 day camps, depending on the needs of the individual. Activities took place outdoors locally to the young people or using local recreational/outdoor centres.
We continued to provide the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and supported 5 young people with their Bronze Award, two of whom completed their Bronze practice and qualifying expeditions last summer and have now completed their remaining sections. They are going on to do their Silver Awards along with a couple of other young people who are already working on their Silver Award.
We ran one Family camp weekend in September 2019, 2 young people came for the whole weekend, each with a family member, another young person came with her Mum on the Saturday. They enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities including mountain biking, indoor climbing and dry-slope skiing. We were due to run a second Family camp weekend late March for 6 young people and 4 family members but this had to be cancelled at the last minute due to Coronavirus.
We ran a series of four or five evening sessions of foundation trail biking, canoeing, mountain biking and indoor climbing; 13 badminton sessions plus one archery session. Due to delays in securing funding for our own archery equipment we were only able to run one archery session, the others had to be cancelled due to Coronavirus.
We did not work directly with the carers but whilst the young people were participating in activities, they were able to spend quality time with other family members/friends or enjoy their own leisure activity. Priorities addressed were complex needs, sports and active leisure and independence.
What Reach4Reality has learned
Reaching out and engaging with new families: for the last couple of years we had publicised our short evening activities to the families on our waiting list and to other new families through local networks or autism support groups. This had lead to a few new young people joining us for activities, but recognising that doing a new activity with new people is probably too big a step for many autistic young people, as part of this Project we offered to do a home visit prior to the first evening activity.
This worked well and helped the young people (and their carers) feel more confident in joining us: they were able to meet one of the staff members who would be on the activity, we could show them photos of the activity and the other adults supporting them, and were also able to take some of the equipment to show them and for them to try on (for example a paddle and a buoyancy aid). It also helped us to get a better idea of the young person’s need and tailor the sessions accordingly, for example limiting the indoor climbing sessions to 2:2 because of the complex level of needs of two of the young people concerned.
Finding other sources of funding: the archery sessions we had planned to run as part of the Project had to be delayed because we had been unable to find the time to complete specific funding applications to secure the remaining funding that we needed to purchase our own archery equipment. However, our Treasurer wrote a general letter out to a number of local businesses explaining what Reach4Reality does and seeking their support, either financially or in other ways. This proved very successful and, in the end, funded the outstanding amount for our archery equipment and has also generated enough income to enable us to purchase our own climbing equipment.
Developing new short break activities, this Project was the first time that we had offered short evening, small group activities throughout the year (other than 1:1's, and weekend camps). By running indoor climbing and then badminton sessions over the winter we were able to do this and gave the young people (and adults supporting them on the badminton) the chance to enjoy the benefits of physical activities throughout the year, as well as developing and maintaining good relationships with those involved.
For the badminton, we initially used the local sports centre but for most of the sessions we were able to use a local church hall, which meant that we could be more flexible in terms of the structure of the sessions and meeting the young people’s needs in a quieter environment with less other distractions.
How Reach4Reality has benefitted from the funding
It has benefited in the following ways, piloting a new service, for example, running short evening sessions throughout the year, following the success of these we hope to be able to run them in future years. With the purchase of our own archery equipment, which was partially funded by Better Breaks, we are now able to offer archery sessions both as a 1:1 activity, or a small group activity: this means that we can be more flexible in when we can run them, not being reliant on the availability of other providers. Strengthen your reputation: as we have been able to reach out to some new young people through the Project, this has helped to strengthen our reputation locally, with families sharing their positive experiences with others in their network. One recent example of this is that we have just been asked whether a teenager with autism can do her Silver Duke of Edinburgh with us, she had started this with another organisation but was unable to finish it with them, but on hearing how one of her friends had completed her Bronze Award with us and has just started her Silver Award, her Mum has asked us if she can transfer her registration to Reach4Reality. Expand your services to a new location or group: Without our Better Breaks funding, the young people who do not get self-directed-support would not be able to benefit from our involvement. Secure other funding, Better Breaks funded half of the staffing costs of running the Duke of Edinburgh Award and we sought the other half from the Duke of Edinburgh Diamond Challenge Fund. The fact that we had already been awarded the match funding from Better Breaks, was commented upon favourably by the assessors for the Duke of Edinburgh Diamond Challenge Fund and helped us to secure the remaining funding from them. Build your skills, knowledge or capacity: Although not funded by Better Breaks, as part of the Project we paid for two of our volunteers to undertake the Archery Leader course so they can now run archery sessions alongside the two staff who are already qualified.
Up to 40 young people with autism will have participated in fun, active outdoor and leisure activities through the 1:1 sessions, day activities, weekend or 5 day camps, short activity sessions or Duke of Edinburgh award scheme, as well as developed friendships.
This was fully achieved with over 30 autistic young people taking part in at least one aspect of the project. For the evening activity sessions, 4 young people improved their cycling skills on basic off-road tracks on the foundation trail cycling, 5 young people were able to enjoy canoeing in a variety of locations using our own canoes and equipment, mountain biking sessions improved the skills and fitness of 4 young people. 11 badminton sessions with 5 young people, and indoor climbing sessions challenged the 2 young people taking part. For some activities (e.g. indoor climbing) we had to limit the number of participants within a group because of the complex needs of the young people. For the young people we were working with on a 1:1 basis, most of them enjoyed joining in small group activities. Duke of Edinburgh Award: the Bronze practice and qualifying walking expeditions were a great challenge but very rewarding experience for the two young people who took part.
James and Mike, both 15, are two of the young people we have been supporting through their Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award, and they both have now completed their awards. James has autism and started working towards his Bronze Award through his school. However, they were not able to give him the level of support that he needed and were only succeeding in creating very high levels of stress for him around his Duke of Edinburgh. We therefore stepped in to support him throughout the time it took him to complete his award, liaising with his school to do so. This worked well to start with but as James was nearing the completion of some of his sections, he became very frustrated with the lack of response from his school to write assessor’s reports and sign off his different sections, we therefore transferred his registration to us and were able to support him through this. For his physical activity, James went to a local gym with a family friend working on exercises together, James said that he enjoyed the sessions because they helped him to become fitter and happier, as well as helping him to build a stronger relationship with the family friend. For his skills section he did baking at home, he has always loved baking and this gave him an opportunity to improve his skills and try new recipes, as well as building on his independence for the future. The activity he chose for his volunteering section was to do odd jobs for an elderly neighbour, for example cutting her grass throughout the summer and when asked about this he said that “it was nice to know that I was helping someone”. Mike has autism, developmental verbal/aural dyspraxia and mobility problems. For his skills activity he chose to learn to play the drums, going for lessons and practising at home: “He has been taking drumming lessons as this is something he always wanted to do and his tutor has said he has done very well. He wants to play with a pipe band and is practising all the time. Through these lessons, he has met other boys who are learning and also the pipe band leaders who have spoken to and encouraged him”. Litter picking locally was the activity he chose to do for his volunteering section, supported by one of his support workers: “The litter picking was something he enjoyed doing and there were places he did this that people told him what a good job he was doing, this made him quite proud. He understood that what he was doing was good for the community”. For his physical, he went swimming regularly: “His swimming was done at the local pool and the staff encouraged him to do his best, which we think shows in the number of lengths he has achieved over the past few months”. For both James and Mike, the greatest challenge but also the section that had most impact on their self-confidence, was the expedition. We ran several training sessions for them where they learnt how to use a Trangia Stove to cook their meals, how to put up a tent as well as getting used to carrying heavy rucksacks on a walk. On the practice expedition James and Mike were supported by one of our Junior Leaders (a young adult who used to do activities with us when younger but whom we have since trained to become a leader with us) and two of our volunteers, with two members of staff acting as supervisor/assessor. We created a simple, pictorial map which they used to walk a section of the Speyside Way, they found the walk hard going and very tiring, but were really pleased to reach their campsite, put up their tents, cook their meal and retreat into their sleeping bags for a well deserved sleep! The second day, they were relieved to be walking a shorter distance but still needed lots of encouragement from those supporting them! For their qualifying expedition, they walked a couple of sections of the Moray coastal trail and were supported by two Junior Leaders with two members of staff as supervisor/assessor. They again followed a pictorial map, but also had to contend with scorching heat as the expedition coincided with the two hottest days of the summer! Although he found it tough at the time, on reflection James says that this expedition was “fun, I enjoyed working as a team and navigating. I got on well with the Junior leaders and enjoyed spending time with them, becoming good friends”. His reaction when they reached the end of their 2 day qualifying expedition was “Wow, are we here? Have we done it?!”: one of amazement and delight that he had succeeded! It was a proud moment for James and his Mum when we presented him with his Bronze certificate and badge at our New Year ceilidh! Feedback from Mike’s carer about the expedition: “He took part in the expedition which was a strenuous experience for him but he was so happy that he managed to complete it. He did not realise he could do anything like this as he had not had the opportunity before meeting the team from Reach4Reality who have been so supportive through the whole experience. The fact he learned to cook outside was something that really pleased him and he still is doing it in the garden, weather permitting”. “By taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh it has enabled Mike to make the most of himself”.
Up to 70 carers of young people with a social communication difficulty will have improved well-being due to having a break from their caring role. Up to 40 young people will have improved well-being due to participation in active leisure and outdoor activities.
This was fully achieved: over 30 young people with autism took part in at least one aspect of the project, enjoying a variety of outdoor activities and 40 carers (many of whom were single carers) benefited from the break from their caring role. During the break they received, the carers were able to spend more quality time with other family members, go out more on their own or with friends, or just enjoy the time relaxing.
Sam is an 11 year old boy with severe congenital malformation of the brain resulting in seizures and behaviours and characteristics not dissimilar to complex autism. He lives at home with his single Mum, Ruth. Sam was on our waiting list but at the start of the project we sent out proposed details of the short evening activities that we were running throughout the year, and Ruth thought that Sam would like to try the indoor climbing sessions, the badminton and the archery sessions. However, she was very anxious about how he would get on because he had in the past tried a number of different activities with other organisations only for them to fail after the first session because his needs were not adequately catered for. Prior to Sam’s first session with us, we did a home visit to meet him and his Mum and as a result decided that Sam’s needs on the climbing sessions would be best met in a very small group. We therefore limited the four climbing sessions to 2 young people with 2 members of staff. Sam found the climbing challenging, both physically and emotionally within the busy indoor climbing wall setting, but he enjoyed learning and trying to do a number of easy climbs. He then joined us for eight of our badminton sessions, getting to know a couple of different young people, another member of staff and one of our volunteers. He also came on our first archery session (the others were cancelled due to Covid-19) although he found archery difficult and at times frustrating to do, it helped him that he already knew 3 of the adults on the session. Ruth’s feedback following these sessions was that they were “amazing”, both for her and for Sam: that they were the first ever activity sessions that he has been able to sustain continuously and been able to complete and achieve the whole series. She said that he really enjoyed the badminton sessions, especially getting to know and developing friendships with the adults involved: that he always went off looking forward to them and came back happy - but tired physically! Ruth commented that for her in the past she has always dreaded going to pick Sam up from anywhere because of the difficulties people have had with Sam, whereas it has really helped her own mental health and lessened her own anxieties knowing that we have been able to cope with his behaviour and support him in a positive way. While Sam was enjoying his activities with us, Ruth used the time to go out on her own for leisurely shopping, going for a walk and always treating herself to a meal out, where she could sit and read a book and not worry about having to do the dishes! She said that this rest and break has really been beneficial for her. Prior to Sam’s participation in our sessions, Ruth said that they would always just laze around at home in the evening (with Sam spending most of his time playing computer games), as it was just too much effort to go out and do things, now however, it has made her realise that they can go out and do more things together, having reduced some of her fears and anxieties.
Up to 16 carers/family members will have had the opportunity to try a variety of outdoor activities on a family camp; up to 20 carers will have had the opportunity to meet socially with other carers.
This outcome was partially met because we were unable to run our second Family camp due to Coronavirus, the first part of this was not fully met as the 4 family members due on that camp were therefore not able to try the outdoor activities on offer. On our earlier Family camp (September 2019) numbers were slightly lower than anticipated, but this was actually more beneficial for the carers as they were able to develop strong positive relationships with each other given the fewer numbers. For the second part of this outcome, some of the carers spent time chatting with each other as they dropped off their young person or collected them from activities, but due to their individual circumstances most did not want to pursue this as they wanted to make the most of their break to spend a bit of quality time with other family members and friends or to do their own leisure activity. Many of them though were able to catch up with each other at our annual New Year Ceilidh.
Joe is an 11 year old boy with autistic spectrum disorder who came on our Family camp weekend with his Mum, Jane, a single parent, and their dog, Bracken. Prior to the weekend Joe had enjoyed some of our evening biking sessions and during these times Jane had enjoyed the opportunity to go for long walks on her own with Bracken, exploring new routes around the Inverness area. On the Family camp Jane joined in some of the activities, for example the aerial runway, archery and canoeing, but other times she spent the time catching up with and chatting to one of the other Mums whom she already knew but hadn’t seen for a long time, or just taking Bracken for a long walk. Jane had been a bit anxious prior to the camp as to how she and Joe would cope, but some of her feedback at the end of the weekend reflect that it had been a positive experience not only for Joe, but for herself too. “You helped enormously by collecting us from home and being patient when you arrived”: “all expectations met fully”: “it was a good opportunity to speak with people”; “he commented that it was easier than he thought for the weekend”; “he got to make lots of choices”; “thank you for including us”: “can I come without him next time?”! Jane also appreciated not having to think about meals and what to cook, but having someone else to do this for them on the weekend.
Up to 70 carers will feel better supported to sustain their caring role, through being involved in the planning of the activities their young person receives to ensure that they are tailored to the young person’s individual needs.
This was fully achieved: over 30 young people with autism took part in at least one aspect of the project, enjoying a variety of outdoor activities and their carers (40) were involved in the planning and preparation of the activities so that their young person's individual needs were met. Numbers were slightly lower than anticipated, but this reflects that more than we had expected of the young people involved in the Project were looked after by a lone carer.
Adam is a 13 year old boy with autistic spectrum disorder, generalized anxieties and very low self-esteem. He lives at home with his Mum, Tracey, and younger brother. However due to his autism and anxieties, Adam cannot cope with the noise and social expectations within his mainstream High School, so he remains in the Additional Support Needs Base and even struggles with his time there, at a recent Child Focus meeting it was agreed that his school hours could be reduced to mornings only because of this. He is keen to develop friendships but often places himself in a vulnerable position because he does not understand the usual social norms in making friends, for example getting into unwise situations in order to gain a potential friend’s acceptance. Tracey too has her own social and learning difficulties and only a small network of support. Adam initially came on the mountain biking sessions we ran during the summer of 2018 and was keen to join us again on our sessions over the summer 2019. He really enjoyed these, getting on especially well with younger staff and volunteers, as well as improving his skills on the challenges of the varied biking trails. Due to the circumstances of another young person we had been working with on a 1:1 basis had changed we were able to start working with Adam on an ongoing basis, both with 1:1 bike sessions but also inviting him to come for an activity day and overnight. Throughout this we worked closely with Adam and Tracey to make sure that his needs were met on the activities and that Tracey’s own anxieties were reduced as well. On his activity day Adam enjoyed a session mountain biking as well as working well with the rest of the group during a team work challenge. It was a very positive day for Adam; he seemed comfortable and confident in the new situation and with the new people. He responded well and confidently to others he had only just met. On his overnight stay Adam had a go at crate climbing and indoor climbing, and coped very well with his overnight stay, the first he had had other than with family. Following the success of these, Tracey was confident that Adam would be fine coming for a full weekend with us and he was due to come on one of our weekend camps at the beginning of April but unfortunately this had to be cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Tracey feels that through our close involvement with her in planning and preparing for Adam’s activities with us it has helped her to feel better supported to sustain her caring role in the following ways, “it has been really good for my own mental well-being, going through everything with me has taken away my anxieties and I know that he is getting the care he needs”; “I certainly feel well supported and this helps me keep going longer”; “it has been a good thing for Adam, but also for me seeing his increased confidence especially after the 1:1 biking sessions”; “I have also been able to enjoy 1:1 time with my other son while Adam has been away: we have been able to do simple activities such as baking a cake together without worrying about Adam coming to interrupt or try and monopolise things as he usually does”: “I have been able to relax more which has helped me cope when Adam comes back”.
Up to 40 young people with autism and up to 20 family members will have had access to a greater range of physical activities through the provision of active outdoor and leisure activities through the 1:1 sessions, day activities, weekend or 5 day camps, Family camps, short activity sessions or Duke of Edinburgh
This was fully achieved through all the activities we provided through the Project. All activities used either mainstream facilities or services, facilities within the local community, or the outdoor environment within the Highlands. There is very limited choice and opportunities available to autistic young people and their families outwith what we were able to provide through the Project.
There is no specific case study for this outcome as Case studies 1,3 and 4 are all relevant to this outcome. For example, the young people doing their Duke of Edinburgh with us would not have had the opportunity to do the activities they chose for their different sections, as they were unable to do their Duke of Edinburgh through their schools because they were not able to provide sufficient support. The Family camp enabled the family members to try a variety of outdoor activities at a local outdoor centre: all of them were involved in choosing the activities that they did. For the 1:1 sessions the young people are fully involved in choosing the activities they do with the Project Worker and, when not outdoors, local leisure facilities are used. For the camps, (all at local outdoor centres) the young people were involved in choosing what activities they would like to do and the small group evening activities created new opportunities for young people with autism locally.
Additional project outcome
Volunteers supporting the young people on activities will have a greater appreciation of the needs of young people with autism and will have gained greater competence at some of the outdoor activities.
Throughout the duration of the Project 12 volunteers have been involved in supporting young people on camps: whilst on camp they received training and support relating to the specific needs of the young people on each camp, both at the start of the camp, but also ongoing daily input as required. Five of these volunteers also helped on some of our short activity sessions and were able to improve their own skills at the activities as a result, for example at mountain biking, canoeing or badminton. Two volunteers also successfully completed their Archery Instructor course as part of the Project. Graeme is one of the volunteers who has supported young people on camps, on the canoeing sessions and, on completing his Archery Instructor Award, co-led an archery session. He says: “My involvement with Reach4Reality’s young people, and in the activities the charity delivered, produced a positive insight into the life of those with autism. Through these activities, I believe I developed the following, a clearer importance of patience, the understanding that what a young person says, or what their body language says, may not always be how they truly feel (e.g.: a smile on the face doesn’t always mean that the young person is essentially happy), a glimpse into how they process information; not to take things said personally; and the importance of a kind word. It was also reinforced that each young person is uniquely different. There is no specific all-inclusive template when working with these young people; it’s dynamic.” “My involvement in Reach4Reality’s activities brought an increase to my confidence and understanding. In my youth, I enjoyed canoeing with friends, but was never exposed to techniques that increased my efficiency, or simple things like securing a canoe for transportation. During Reach4Reality’s canoeing activities, I was able to increase my skills in these areas, with thanks from the Reach4Reality staff. Also, upon recently completing my Archery Instructor training course, Reach4Reality allowed me the opportunity to build my confidence and experience by co-leading an archery session with them. I found this a great help as, although I am qualified, I have little confidence or practice leading a session and appreciated the ability to be mentored.”