Reaching Further with Reach4Reality: Continuing to Extend our Reach
A story by Reach4Reality
We provided 1:1 and small group work with 8 autistic young people not receiving SDS. We continued providing the DofE (Duke of Edinburgh Award). We ran evening & half-day activity sessions in various outdoor activities. We ran a weekend Family camp and we started working with 15 autistic young people from our waiting list.
What Reaching Further with Reach4Reality: Continuing to Extend our Reach did
We worked with 8 young people with ASD who were not able to access SDS: All 8 were already known to us. This involved regular 1:1 activities & longer small group activities, depending on the confidence and needs of the individual. Activities took place outdoors locally to the young people or at local outdoor centres. We supported four young people with their Gold DofE Award, one on her Silver and two on their Bronze awards. Two of the Gold participants completed their Gold practice and qualifying expeditions and a 5 day residential last summer and have almost completed their remaining sections. A third Gold participant completed the practice expedition but was unable to do the qualifying expedition due to illness. The forth withdrew due to a change in circumstances.
We ran a Family camp in February 2022 at Allt Na Criche, Aviemore. Six young people and eight family members were due to come for all or part of the weekend, supported by R4R staff and volunteers. Two families cancelled at short notice due to family difficulties; a third decided not to travel in the snowy conditions. The snow meant a change of activities but everyone enjoyed the winter walk, the zipwire, indoor climbing, archery and sledging! Eight other family members joined their young person for part of our other residential camps.
During the summer 2021 we ran four evening sessions for 2-5 young people in each of the following activities: foundation trail biking, mountain biking, archery, canoeing. It was great to see the improvement in skills and confidence of those progressing from the trail to the mountain biking. These sessions were for new young people/those on our waiting list. Over the winter months we ran 20 weekly badminton sessions for three autistic young people.
We ran four full and 42 half day activities in a range of outdoor activities in the Easter/summer holidays: 33 young people joined us for at least one of these.
Other than camps including family members, we did not work directly with the carers but 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, transition to adulthood and independence.
What Reach4Reality has learned
Reaching out to and engaging with new families:
Our funding has enabled us to employ an extra member of staff to start working with some of the young people on our waiting list. This has been invaluable, but it has also highlighted to us how what we provide through the project, and with our other work, just really touches the tip of the iceberg. As soon as we start working with a new young person from the waiting list, another one replaces them on the list! It also again emphasises the importance of being able to offer flexible and personalised activities. Some new young people are able to build up quickly to an overnight stay, others need a much more gradual approach. We were again reminded of how evening activities can be a good way of new young people building up confidence with us to start with.
Developing new short breaks:
After the success of our trial at running half day/day activities during the summer holidays 2020, running half day activities during the 2021 Easter holidays and a fuller programme of half day/half-day activities in the summer of 2021 presented further opportunities for learning both in terms of how to manage the logistics of the programme, coping with the inclement weather (snow, sleet, hail) the pressure on our own instructing staff but also the balance and mix of half day/half-day activities. For future Easter activities we would continue to provide just half day activities so young people are not exposed to the potentially inclement weather for a full day, without our own outdoor base, even sheltering under a gazebo will not offer full protection. For the summer activities, some families have said that a full day would offer them greater respite and time to do more outside their caring role. We will therefore aim to provide a greater mix of day/half-days.
Dealing with unexpected challenges or opportunities:
Although not totally unexpected, one of the biggest challenges of running the half-day/full day activities during the Easter/Summer holidays was the logistical issues regarding transport to get the young people to activities (living in a large rural area where not all families have their own transport plus we were still working on one young person/car) and transporting all the necessary activity equipment (canoe and bike trailers, archery equipment). We were able to hire a minibus for some of the activities during the summer holidays which eased this slightly, but it also highlighted to us the need for us to find ways of acquiring our own vehicle rather than relying on staff or volunteer cars.
We have been continually amazed at most of our young people’s capacity for developing resilience, whether it be coping with driving sleet on activities or with extreme tiredness on the four day Gold DofE expedition. We have also seen how many of them have been able to adapt to change despite their autism, as long as they have been adequately prepared for the change. For example those that have stayed with us at Badaguish lodges have coped well with the change of venue and all that has entailed. Some have said that they preferred it there as it felt more relaxed not having to be ready by a certain time for the external Instructors coming to run the activities. We are building on this for future weekend camps and developing more of a varied mix of camps to be able to cater more for individual preferences.
How Reach4Reality has benefitted from the funding
Reach4Reality has benefitted from the Better Breaks funding in the following ways: It has enabled us to start working with new young people who were on our waiting list, through employing an extra sessional worker as well as extending current staff hours/capacity. The new sessional worker is a qualified outdoor instructor, previously working at one of the outdoor centres we regularly went to: an indirect consequence has been that we have been able to use his skills as a freelance instructor too. Although we had run a trial of several half day/day activities during the summer of 2020, through our Better Breaks funding we were able to extend this to the Easter holidays as well as the summer holidays. These have now become an established aspect of our ongoing work as well as bringing in additional income. All aspects of the project have helped to build our skills, knowledge, capacity and experience as well as helping to strengthen our reputation locally as we have continued to develop and grow over recent years.
Up to 40 young people with autism or a social communication difficulty will have participated in fun, active outdoor and leisure activities through the 1:1 sessions, half-day/day activities, weekend or five day camps, evening short activity sessions or DofE award scheme, as well as developed friendships.
This was more than fully achieved. At least 50 autistic young people joined in some aspect of the project. For example eight young people who were unable to get SDS for our input, enjoyed 1:1 sessions with one of our Project workers, such as local walks, playing badminton. Some of these also came on one or more of our weekend or five day camps. Over ten young people enjoyed taking part in a series of evening sessions in one or more of the following activities: canoeing, trail biking, mountain biking, archery, badminton: developing their skills, having fun. A further 16+ young people took part in small group, half-day/day outdoor activities during the Easter and Summer holidays. Seven young people have been working towards their DofE awards. The Gold practice expedition in particular gave them the chance to develop positive relationships and friendships as they worked together as a team, canoeing and walking. We were also able to work with fifteen young people who were on our waiting list.
Toby is an 18 year old with global learning delay, aural dyspraxia and some physical difficulties. Due to his Mum’s own health problems he is looked after by his maternal grandparents. Toby’s grandmother says: “Toby has been participating in the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme with Reach4Reality and through this he has been able to take part in activities which he thoroughly enjoys and would be unable to do without the support of the staff from Reach4Reality. He has been able to form friendships with other children and adults which has been really good for Toby as he is not able to do this anywhere else. As they are doing activities in groups it has given Toby the chance to mix with and learn from the other members in the group. This was particularly the case when doing his Bronze, Silver and Gold expeditions for the DofE. He would never been able to achieve these goals without the support of the leaders of Reach4Reality.” Toby has completed all the sections of his Gold Award and is just waiting for his assessors to upload their assessor’s reports. For his volunteering he did litter picking around the grounds of a local visitor centre (and has since been offered a job one a hour a week during the height of the tourist season). For his skills section he was working on improving his drumming skills through regular lessons and practice, for his physical section he was aiming to improve his core strength and fitness through a mixture of activities, using an exercise bike at home, walks with family/support worker/R4R Project Worker, canoeing with R4R and learning to ride a bike with R4R. For his expedition he completed a four day walking/canoeing expedition along part of the Great Glen: a fantastic achievement for him and one where his improved fitness and stamina clearly paid off. His GOLD residential was a 5 day outdoor activities camp at Glencoe Outdoor Centre where he took part in a variety of activities such as canoeing, sailing/long boating, archery, walk and orienteering. Toby’s Gran continues: “He has great fun on all the activities and camps he has attended and he has gained confidence in being able to take part. We cannot state how important all this has been for Toby’s development as he turns 18 and becomes part of the adult world. To see him so happy when participating with the group makes us realise what Reach4Reality has done for him especially helping him realise his dream of taking part and earning his awards for the DofE scheme.” He is eagerly looking forward to when he can go to the Gold Award Presentation at Holyrood Palace and receive his award!
Up to eight carers/family members will have had the opportunity to try a variety of outdoor activities on a family camp. Up to sixty three carers will have had the chance to enjoy a break from their caring role, for example spending time with other family members, enjoying their own leisure time activities.
This was fully achieved. Seven carers/family members had the opportunity to take part in a variety of outdoor activities whilst on our family camp or as part of one of our weekend or five day camps. Activities included paddle boarding, walk, zipwire, archery, indoor climbing and bush craft. Through all the activities we provided as part of the project 73 carers were able to have a break from their caring role whilst their son/daughter took part in activities with us. This enabled them to spend quality time with other family members or friends (e.g. visiting, going out for a coffee) or to enjoy their own leisure activities.
Iain and Rosie are both 18 years old, on the autistic spectrum with additional learning disabilities. They came on our Family camp at Allt Na Criche near Aviemore, with their Dads, Matt and Pete. On the camp they all joined in a variety of activities, winter/snowy walk, sledging, zipwire, indoor climbing and archery. Iain and Rosie’s Mums remained at home, getting a break from their caring roles, spending time with other family members or just enjoying some “Me Time”. Both Matt and Pete were very positive about every aspect of the weekend. They got on very well with each other and both appreciated the opportunity to chat to each other especially as they were in similar situations as carers. After the camp, Rosie’s Mum gave us this feedback “It was a lovely weekend for me as I knew Pete and Rosie were having fun away In Alt na criche, whilst I was able to relax at home. It always feels such a treat when Rosie is away because I can do things that I never have the chance to when she is around. The weekend definitely felt like time for me and I really appreciated that so much. Pete says that the weekend gave him access to opportunities that he wouldn’t usually do so although he was still on duty as a carer he enjoyed the change of venue and the outdoor activities. We think the family camps are a lovely idea and we would love to participate again when another one is offered. Pete enjoyed meeting Matt and it was good company for him to be with another Dad in a similar situation to himself. Pete and Rosie say that the catering was excellent and I enjoyed having a weekend off cooking!!” Iain’s Mum gave us this feedback “Iain and Matt thoroughly enjoyed the family camp, it gave them an opportunity to bond trying out new activities and being able to relax together without any distractions from home. It really did Iain good having his dad there as at home there is always other family members popping in or Matt is at work. Iain really likes spending time with his dad and at camp he had his full attention and Matt was able to relax and enjoy his time with Iain. After social work funding was stopped it would have been hard financially to continue to put Iain to camps without funding. He really benefits from camp as this is the only way he can socialise with his peers in a safe environment, it really builds up his confidence and allows him to meet new people and try out different activities that he wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to do. Iain going to camp also helps myself and Matt to relax for a few days, we get to spend some time with the grandchildren together, we also get to meet up with some friends together and just be a couple for a few days which does us all good. Iain then comes home from camp and we both feel refreshed and Iain is happier with himself for a while.”
Up to sixty three carers will feel better supported to sustain their caring role, through being involved in the planning of the activities their young person/adult receives to ensure that they are tailored to the young person’s individual needs.
This was fully achieved: seventy three carers were involved in the planning of their son/daughter’s activities within the Project to ensure that they met their individual needs, and this has helped them feel better supported to sustain their caring role.
Mike is a 16 year old autistic lad who lives at home with his Mum, a single parent who has her own health issues - Mike acts as a young carer for her. Mike does not receive SDS so has been funded for a number of years through our Better Breaks grant. He enjoys weekly walks with one of our Project Workers, joined in with some of our day activities during the Easter and summer holidays, as well as taking part in a couple of weekend camps and a five day camp. His Mum gave us this feedback: "I feel that R4R does a fantastic job on tailoring activities and camps to Mike's individual needs. Thought is always taken as to which activities Mike is confident doing and which ones he'll be prepared to push himself to improve in. Thought also goes into which other young people Mike will feel comfortable being at camp or on activities with. Mike and myself are always included in planning process and his confidence grows with each activity and camp he attends. The consistency of staff members has helped him build relationships and feel confident each time. The times when Mike is away at camp really help me to sustain my caring role for him. As a single parent with my own health issues and disabilities it can be exhausting always making sure Mike has the routine in place he needs to thrive. The break allows me to relax and have a few days without routine which I find helps me "recharge my batteries" and feel ready to welcome Mike home. I also have the opportunity to spend one to one time with my eldest son if he manages to come to visit which is a real treat. The break can also give me a chance to sort things out around the house, like rearranging cupboards or organising clothes for charity shop... things that Mike finds stressful due to his dislike of change and of parting with clothes that no longer fit. I always feel that the time Mike spends away at camp is valuable time, no matter if I choose to organise, socialise or just relax."
Up to sixty three carers of autistic young people with will have improved wellbeing due to having a break from their caring role. Up to forty young people will have improved wellbeing (fitness, confidence, & physical, social & independence skills) due to participation in active leisure & outdoor activities.
This was fully achieved. Through the activities provided as part of the Project seventy three carers were able to have a break from their caring role. This enabled them to enjoy spending time with other family members/friends, take part in their own leisure activities or just use the time to rest and relax. Forty three young people with autism or a similar social communication difficulty took part in at least one aspect of the activities. Through the grant we were able to employ an extra sessional worker as well as paying current staff additional hours to start working with a number of young people on our waiting list. We were able to work with fifteen young people from our waiting list.
Through the grant we were able to employ an extra sessional worker as well as paying current staff additional hours to start working with a number of young people on our waiting list. We were able to work with fifteen young people from our waiting list. These illustrations from three of the young people/carers who were on our waiting list show how both the wellbeing of the young people and the carers has improved. Amy is a 17 year old teenager on the autistic spectrum living at home with her parents and younger brother. She attends a mainstream school but the bullying she has suffered at school over the years had really knocked her confidence and mental wellbeing. Her Mum writes: “Taking part in activities with Reach4Reality has supported Amy’s social development, given her a sense of belonging, increased her confidence and had a positive impact on her mental health. The canoeing evenings was a great way for her to start to get to know people at Reach4Reality. She also greatly enjoyed her mountain bike cycling trip last summer. She looked forward to the badminton sessions every week when they run over the winter months. This all helped her feel more positive as she gained the benefits of being part of a group which accepts her for whom she is. The 1:1 walks with the Project Worker has also been a great success. For Amy it has been something to look forward too, a great opportunity for meaningful conversation, discovering new places and it has involved a lot of laughter. When it comes to the weekends away it has helped her that the trips have been planned and carried out by staff whom truly understand the special challenges faced by young people on the autism spectrum, especially following a very bad experience on a school trip. So being able to go away on trips with R4R has left her feeling empowered has been immensely important. That she already knew the Project worker from their walks, was very helpful when she was on her first weekend away. Although she only made it for one night, rather than the two which was planned, she was left with a feeling of success and looking forward to the next which then went as planned. Through Reach4Reality Amy has also embarked on the Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze Award. She did some weekly volunteering work in a community food cupboard before Easter, which I believe she was good at, and which gave her the sense she can be an effective contributor to society. Also, part of her tasks are to bake and cook at home which has motivated her interest for this. Further activities to achieve her award are planned/being planned. Also, I believe the activities she has been part of through Reach4Reality has helped her understand that despite her own challenges, and to some extent because of them, she has the capacity to look out for and encourage others. For us as parents it has been a relief to know Amy is in an environment with Reach4Reality which understands the special challenges she faces, and are supporting her to become more confident in her unique way. As parents it can be isolating when your child is so different to most other children, and it was like a weight being lifted off our shoulders when she was welcomed to join Reach4Reality where she is better understood and accepted for whom she is. Also, it gives rest when she is away on activities or trips to know she is supported so well and is learning at so many levels.” Dave is a 17 year old with a learning disability and autism who was on our waiting list. He took part in some of our evening activities, enjoyed some mountain biking sessions with our sessional project worker and has been on 2 weekend camps: Dave’s perspective: -he loves the outdoor activities -he likes the social interaction -he tells us it gives him a break from us! and he says us from him !! Parent's perspective: - opportunities for him to have fun socially and physically doing outdoor activities which he really enjoys - opportunities to develop his social skills and interactions with others in a supportive environment - always hoping he might meet someone who he can build up a longer term friendship/connect with outside of Reach4Reality events...not happened yet - keeps him busy/occupied doing something he really enjoys - it does give our other kids some space away - gives Dave something that is special and particular to him that he can share with us /family. As he doesn't have a friendship group to have social outings with outside of school - helps him build up his own skills - organisation/personal responsibility/ independence/ broadens his outlook to possibilities he can continue and develop in future - if Dave [ and other kids are happy] then that creates a happy house and therefore impacts on how we as parents feel i.e. we're less stressed/irritable etc!! Connor is a 12 year old autistic lad living at home with his parents and younger brother. He has been going on fortnightly walks and bike rides with our sessional worker and has been on a couple of small group activities: His Mum says: “Since Connor started with Reach4Reality, he has become more confident in himself and more outgoing, his self esteem has improved tenfold. Connor has gone from a child who had a fear and anxiety to take part in group activities and wouldn't leave the safety of his home to slowly becoming more forthcoming, and building up his relationship with the R4R team members we can see how much this has improved. He himself says he really enjoys it and looks forward to doing more in the future and he can feel his confidence to try new things growing. It has helped us as a family too knowing that Connor is getting involved and trying new things with the support from everyone at R4R. It gives us a boost seeing him achieving and excited to join in.”