Reaching Further with Reach4Reality -continuing to extend our Reach
A story by Reach4Reality
We ran the following activities for autistic young people: evening, day/half-days in a variety of outdoor activities, the DofE Award, a weekend Family Camp and a trial weekend for over 18’s.
We worked with 7 autistic young people not receiving SDS:both 1:1 and small group outdoor activities.
What Reaching Further with Reach4Reality -continuing to extend our Reach did
We worked with 7 young people with ASD who were unable to access SDS: 6 were already known to us, 1 was a new young person. This involved regular 1:1 activities & longer small group activities, depending on the confidence & needs of the individual. Activities took place outdoors locally to the young people or at local outdoor centres.
We supported 2 young people to complete their Gold DofE Award, 2 to complete their Bronze & a further 2 have just 1 section of their Bronze award to complete. This included a 2 day walking/camping expedition.
We ran a Family Camp at Cairngorms Christian Centre, Kincraig in March 2023. 8 young people & 10 family members enjoyed a range of outdoor activities including: canoeing, horse-riding, putting, biking, walk & coffee shop. The young people/families were a mixture of those already known to us & those we had recently started working with.
During the summer 2022 we ran a series of evening sessions for 2-5 young people in Learn to Ride biking & canoeing. Over the winter months we ran weekly indoor climbing sessions (October-January) & badminton sessions (February-March) for 3 autistic young people. These were a mixture of new young people (e.g. those on our waiting list) & those already known to us.
We ran a trial over 18’s weekend camp for 7 young adults & another who came for the day: they were involved in planning activities & food.
We ran 11 full activity days & 23 half day activities in a range of outdoor activities in the Easter/summer holidays: 36 young people joined us for at least 1 of these.
Other than camps/activities including family members, 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 & active leisure, transition to adulthood, diversity, independence.
The learn to ride biking sessions & Family camp were particularly successful (sense of achievement & growing confidence of the young people).
What Reach4Reality has learned
The over 18’s trial weekend contributed to our learning in both the project planning and budgeting aspect, in developing new short breaks and in finding other sources of funding. As already cited this learning included:
• There is the need for ongoing activities specifically for this age group (18-21/25): ranging from evening activities (social/outdoor), day/weekend small group activities, further weekend camps
• Involvement of the young adults in the planning and running of such activities is very time consuming and this additional time would not be totally covered by the fees charged for and paid by their self-directed support
• If we are to run activities specifically for this age-group we would need to secure funding to cover the extra costs and employ an additional member of staff part-time to develop this further
• That whilst some of the young adults have good independence skills in terms of food/meal preparation, others do not!
Since this trial weekend we have manged to access funding from the Highland Communities Wellbeing Fund towards a new member of staff to develop further our work specifically with the over 18’s.
Running the DofE Award scheme over several years we have gained more experience and learnt a lot from running the expeditions in particular: both in terms of how to meet the needs of the individual participants and the logistics of running them. We have also continued to learn how time consuming this can be and as a result have sought (and gained) funding to employ another part-time member of staff to extend our reach so that more young people/adults can benefit from participating in the DofE Award scheme.
The challenge now for us is to be able to find and recruit suitable people for these posts.
How Reach4Reality has benefitted from the funding
Reach4Reality has benefitted in the following ways: • Piloting a trial over 18’s weekend and through the evidence and feedback gained we have been able to secure new funding to develop this service further: this should ultimately help us to expand our services more specifically for this age group • Running the DofE Award has also given us more evidence and feedback to secure new funding to extend our reach with the Award. • Once we have recruited new members of staff for the above positions, we will then have increased our capacity. • The training for staff on how to run Learn to ride biking sessions, has built the skills and knowledge of our current 3 members of staff as we have been able to run these for some young people. • As part of the project we were also able to secure training for 2 members of staff and a volunteer in mountain biking leadership: one member of staff successfully completed the MIAS level 2 leader award which now enables him to take young people into more technical terrain; the other member of staff and volunteer gained the MIAS level 1 leader award. This means that it is easier to tailor our activities/biking sessions to the individual needs or skills of individual riders, as we can now split groups more and have more than 1 session running at once.
Through participating in 1:1 sessions, half-day/day, evening activities, weekend or 5 day camps, the DofE Award scheme, upto 40 young people/adults (aged 9-20) with autism or other social communication difficulty will have enjoyed fun, active outdoor & leisure activities & developed friendships.
This was more than fully achieved. At least 41 autistic (or with a social communication difficulty) young people joined in some aspect of the project. For example 7 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 or Frisbee golf. Five of these also came on one or more of our weekend or 5 day camps. 9 young people enjoyed taking part in some of our evening sessions in one or more of the following activities: Learn to ride biking, canoeing, indoor climbing & badminton: learning & developing new skills, having fun. A further 20 young people took part in small group, half day/day outdoor activities during the Easter & summer holidays. 9 young people have been working towards their DofE awards: the expedition & trainings in particular gave them the chance to develop positive friendships as they worked together as a team. The Family camp provided fun activities for 8 young people.
Offering the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme to young people/adults with a social communication difficulty is one way in which they can have more opportunities to have fun, develop friendships and do activities they enjoy. Our Better Breaks grant part funds staffing time to run the Duke of Edinburgh Award. This feedback from the mother of Darryll a 16 year old lad who completed his Bronze award with us earlier this year, describes how this outcome was met for him: "Darryll has Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. We were delighted when Darryll was given the opportunity to work on his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award with Reach4Reality. He has benefitted in a huge range of ways from the experience and was over the moon when he got the email confirming he had completed his Bronze award, he now can't wait to get started on his Silver! For the volunteering section he worked in the gardens at a local castle. Before starting this Darryll was very phobic of prickly, sharp and hot sensations in addition to the difficulty of meeting new people and working as a team due to his social communication difficulties. Through his volunteering placement he is now more confident to work as part of a team and has developed his conversation skills. He even met and had a chat with King Charles III and showed him the parts of the garden he had helped plan and grow. He can now tolerate working with more prickly plants and use hand tools such as shears and secateurs and makes a lovely cup of tea! Darryll joined the school Dungeons and Dragons role playing club for the Skill section. The teacher in charge expressed doubt as to whether Darryll would cope in the group which could be rowdy and as battles progress in the game emotions can run high. Darryll was determined to try and take part in a campaign and to everyone's delight, particularly Darryll's he flourished in the group. Participating in the game helped him develop social skills with his peers and be able to participate in a team activity successfully where previously he had struggled. D and D is now one of his favourite things to do in the week. Darryll rejoined his local Kong Soo Do (Korean Martial Art) group for his physical section of the award which had been paused during the COVID pandemic. Again, martial arts was very beneficial to Darryll in practicing social skills with a partner, following complex instructions and being active. As Darryll has arthritis it is important that he keeps his joints supple and his muscles strong and exercise such as martial arts is an excellent way to achieve this. Participating in the Duke of Edinburgh Award gave Darryll the encouragement to go back to martial arts, re-learn old skills, be active and pass the first part of his Brown belt which was brilliant for his self-esteem. We anticipated that the Expedition Section would be the most challenging part for Darryll. He finds it upsetting to be away from familiar family members, loves home comforts and again was very afraid of hot things so cooking on a stove was a big worry to him. Reach4Reality provided invaluable support preparing for the expedition and we worked on Darryll’s cooking skills with a stove and a selection of boil in the bag meals until he was confident to manage to cook a hot camp meal himself. Darryll enjoyed the hike through the Caledonian pine forest and took photos of the scenery, plants and wildlife he saw. He coped with sleeping overnight in a tent and working as a team with other group members as required. The expedition showed how resilient Darryll can be and that we can push his boundaries to help him achieve. Being able to complete his Duke of Edinburgh through Reach4Reality has given Darryll a wide range of experiences and helped him develop his self-help skills, independence, social and vocational skills but most importantly improved his self-esteem and confidence. Reach4Reality is fully inclusive, supportive and is appropriately challenging while being sensitive to the needs of each young person with neurodevelopmental conditions who may not otherwise be given the opportunity to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme."
Up to 60 carers will enjoy a break from their caring role, e.g.spending time with other family members, enjoying their own leisure time activities, whilst their individual young person is participating on project activities; up to 12 carers will have tried outdoor activities on the family camp.
This was fully achieved. 9 carers/family members had the opportunity to take part in a variety of outdoor activities whilst on our family camp. Activities included biking, canoeing, horse-riding, putting and walk and cafe. Through all the activities we provided as part of the project over 56 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. spending quality time with grandchildren or other children); or to enjoy their own leisure activities.
Our family camp in March 2023 gave 10 carers/family members the opportunity to take part in a variety of outdoor activities alongside their young person/adult. Whilst they were on camp a further 4 carers enjoyed some time at home on their own, relaxing, spending quality time with other family members (children, grandchildren) or with friends. Two autistic young adults (1 male one female) came with their Dads: they had all been on a previous family camp and the Dads enjoyed re-connecting with each other as well as being able to take part in the activities. They both cited the canoeing as their favourite activity and one of them took the opportunity afterwards to go and have a coffee on his own: “I liked having a wee café for a special coffee just down the road”! He also commented that he hadn’t been expecting to enjoy meeting the other young people and families so much. Two autistic 16 year olds (one male one female) came with their Mum or Dad: for all of them the Family camp was a totally new experience and they really appreciated being able to try new activities together within the group. The canoeing was again their favourite activity, with the Dad commenting that the canoeing in particular was a big success for his daughter: she had been very anxious about it beforehand and squealed as she got into the rafted canoe, but with encouragement and support from R4R staff she overcame her fears and enjoyed the session. Her Dad felt that he had had a fun weekend with her and that it helped bring her out a bit more to experiencing new things. She had also never stayed away from her Mum before, but the weekend enabled her Mum to spend some time resting, looking after their new puppy as well as catching up with other family members. They are both looking forward to another family camp! Another family, consisting of young people with a social communication difficulty and/or learning disability (aged 14, 15 and 17) and their foster parents joined us on the Family camp. Two of the young people and the foster parents had been on one of our general weekend camps but the 15 year old had never been away with them before or tried any outdoor activities. The foster parents would never have considered doing any of the activities on their own as a family, so they really enjoyed doing the activities together or watching the others taking part. Their feedback included the following comments: “Fantastic weekend” “Fun” “Brilliant, so good” “Good quality family time”. They were also surprised with how much the 15 year old became part of the group for example, playing games or sitting alongside others doing some drawing. They saw this as a big step as they look to her gradually doing more activities with R4R.
Through being closely 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, up to 60 carers will feel better supported to sustain their caring role.
This was fully achieved: 56 carers were involved in the planning of their son/daughter’s activities to ensure that they met their individual needs, and this has helped them feel better supported to sustain their caring role. The planning included carer's involvement in deciding on dates, times, length of activity, nature of activity, as well as feeding back on what did/didn't work after activities. This was through our regular ongoing contact with carers, through additional surveys, care plan reviews, home visits, emails or phone calls.
Matthew is a 16 year old with autism who lives with his Mum, Stacey. Matthew had enjoyed a few 1:1 sessions with one of our Project Workers and had been on 3 activity days with us, as part of one of our general weekend camps. We had been talking to him about coming for an overnight stay as the next step, but he was unsure of this. Stacey has her own health issues and is unable to do many activities with Matthew. However, we invited Matthew and Stacey on our family camp and this was a really beneficial stepping stone for them both. For Stacey she was able to see what we do on our weekends which has meant that she is now more comfortable and relaxed about him going away. For Matthew it gave him the opportunity to try a full weekend camp with his Mum there to support him if needed (which he didn’t!). This has since given him the confidence to come on a full weekend on his own. Stacey says: “Matthew isn't a very outgoing boy. But after the family camp he couldn't wait for the next one. Matthew is with me most of the time. But he had no hesitation to go away with Reach 4 Reality. He knows he is safe with all the staff. He has no hesitation to go to any of them and talk if he needs to. These weekends away give me a break from Matthew and also gives him a break from me. Matthew just loved going away last weekend. He hasn't stopped talking about it!” As Matthew comes on more activities and camps in the future, and as Stacey continues to be involved in the planning for these, Stacey will continue to feel more supported to sustain her caring role as well as taking the time to just concentrate on her own needs and interests.
Up to 40 young people will have improved wellbeing (fitness, confidence, friendships, physical, social & independence skills) participating in active leisure/outdoor activities. Up to 60 carers will have improved wellbeing due to having a break from their caring role or participating in activities.
This was fully achieved: at least 41 autistic young people/adults took part in a range of outdoor or leisure activities which improved their wellbeing in some way. For example the confidence and sense of achievement from learning to ride a bike, or the friendships develop through regular activities with other young people. 56 carers’ wellbeing was improved through being able to enjoy quality time with other family members, enjoying “me time”, through taking part in activities or by being able to connect and share with other carers on the family camp.
Mark is a 17 year old lad with autism who lives with his Mum, Sandra, who has her own health problems: Mark is her main carer. Mark does not receive any self-directed support so his activities with Reach4Reality for the past few years have been funded through our Better Breaks grant. As Mark’s confidence has grown over the years, he has been able to join in longer and more challenging activities. His Mum describes how his, and her own, wellbeing have benefitted from Reach4Reality’s involvement over the last year: “This year Mark decided he wanted to learn to ride a bike. This was something that had never felt achievable for him. R4R were great at supporting him to achieve his goal. He attended "learn to cycle" sessions and R4R supported him at his own pace, allowing him to feel confident that he wouldn't be rushed into doing more than he felt able to do. With a lot of hard work, perseverance and patience he was able to achieve his goal of riding a bike. Without the support of the amazing staff team at R4R this would never have been possible. Being able to cycle has given Mark confidence and a huge boost to his self-esteem. He feels very proud of his achievement. He is now able to join in with cycling activities during camps and on 1/2 day activity days. This has opened up possibilities for him to join in with his peers where he wasn't able to before. Mark also continues to enjoy his weekly sessions with his Project Worker. It gives him such a boost each week to be able to meet with someone who he feels comfortable with and be able to communicate with easily. He really enjoys going for walks and is able to choose different walks he likes to go on. Mark struggles to communicate with his peers so having an adult to chat with suits Mark much better and helps build on his social and communication skills. As Mark's main caregiver I feel very supported in my role by having R4R in Mark’s life. School holidays can be a long few weeks and having activity days for Mark helps me fill his time and give me a little break from his rigid routines. I always feel relaxed when he is out on an activity or at a camp as I know he'll be having fun and being well cared for. On the whole Mark's wellbeing is massively improved with the input from R4R. His emotional wellbeing is improved by boosting confidence and self-esteem, and by building on relationships he has made at camps/activities. His physical wellbeing is also supported by getting exercise he wouldn't normally have the opportunity to get. My own wellbeing is improved by knowing I'll have some respite from my caring role, giving me time to concentrate on myself for a while.”
Additional project outcome
Reach4Reality gained a better understanding of how to support young adults with autism in the planning, preparation and running of an outdoor activity weekend.
Initially at Reach4Reality we only worked with young people up to their 19th birthday but at the request of parents (and the young adults themselves) we have gradually been working with an increasing number of young adults. Other than training a few young adults as Junior Leaders, this has just been on an adhoc/needs/availability basis with the young adults joining on some of our general camps and activities. We had been feeling for a while that this age group needed their own activities or service and in April 2022 we ran a trial over 18’s weekend to get a better idea of the challenges and benefits of this. The feedback from the young adults at the end of the weekend was positive and all of them would be interested in further activities specifically for their age group rather than just including them in our general activities. Some of the young adults were involved in a planning meeting and most of them contributed their thoughts, ideas and hopes (for example regarding food, activities) via a survey prior to the weekend. The weekend was challenging in terms of trying to run a weekend for such a diverse group of young adults in terms of their needs, interests and personalities, whilst trying to ensure that it was personalised to each young adult. To help us to do this we bought in the services of other outdoor providers (Loch Insh Watersports for paddleboarding, and Active Spirit for the canoeing sessions): this meant we were able to run a greater range of activities and it freed up 2 of our staff who would usually run the canoeing sessions, to concentrate more on the wellbeing of the young adults rather than on the logistics of running the session. An added bonus for some of the young adults was to meet up again with the 2 Active Spirit instructors whom they had not seen for several years. Most of the young adults were also involved to varying degrees with the meal preparation, cooking and clear up. From running the weekend and feedback afterwards we have learnt: • There is the need for ongoing activities specifically for this age group (18-21/25): ranging from evening activities (social/outdoor), day/weekend small group activities, further weekend camps • Involvement of the young adults in the planning and running of such activities is very time consuming and this additional time would not be totally covered by the fees charged for and paid by their self-directed support • If we are to run activities specifically for this age-group we would need to secure funding to cover the extra costs and employ an additional member of staff part-time to develop this further • That whilst some of the young adults have good independence skills in terms of food/meal preparation, others do not!