Reaching Further with Reach4Reality
A story by Reach4Reality
We worked with 8 young people with autism involving them in outdoor activities tailored to their individual needs, both 1:1 sessions and small group activities or camps.
We ran short activity sessions in a range of outdoor activities, plus a family weekend camp. We also trialled the Duke of Edinburgh scheme.
What Reaching Further with Reach4Reality did
Over the year we worked with 8 young people with autism involving them in outdoor activities tailored to their individual needs, building on work we had already done with them through our previous funding. 1:1 activities took place locally to Inverness, but group activities/camps took place at Abernethy Trust, Nethybridge. Activities included: skiing, mountain biking, gorge walking, team challenges. One young person took part in a canoe expedition on the River Spey, another joined us on a 5 day camp.
Over the summer we ran a series of 5 evening sessions for small groups of young people with autism in the following activities: indoor climbing (Glenmore Lodge), canoeing (Loch Morlich), foundation trail cycling (trails around Inverness), mountain biking (local trails). We also ran a skiing day on the dry ski slope at Abernethy Trust, Nethybridge and 3 climbing days on local crags. Priority was given to new young people or young people with autism without any other access to outdoor activities.
In October we ran a trial weekend family camp at Abernethy Trust, Nethybridge for 3 girls with autism plus a family member. They did activities separately, but met up for mealtimes and social times. As this was a trial they were already known to us.
As a trial from September we ran the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme for 9 young people (8 doing Bronze, 1 doing Silver). As this was a trial they were already known to us.
Other than the family camp, we did not work directly with carers. While young people took part in our activities, carers were able to spend more time with other family members, as well as resting or relaxing. The project addressed, to varying degrees, all of the Better Breaks priority areas apart from breaks for very young disabled children or a new short break service. On the whole the project went to plan.
What Reach4Reality has learned
Project planning and budgeting: In planning our project and especially the budget for it, it can be difficult to do this accurately mainly because of the individual nature of our service to the young people, but also because there were several different components of the project. However, despite this, our overall planning and budgeting at the start of the project were reflected well in our end of project budget/expenditure and outcomes which is encouraging.
Developing new short breaks activities: Pilot Family camp, from running our pilot family camp we learnt a lot about how the young people and family members can benefit from such a camp. For example, that for the young people it can be a step in their building confidence to stay away from home, that they can gain a sense of pride and achievement from being able to do activities which their family member was not able to do. For the family members that they can gain an insight into what our activities and camps are like (and so have greater awareness and confidence in us as an organisation) as well as an appreciation of what their young person can achieve through their activities with us.
We also gained a greater awareness of some of the issues the families/young people face, for example the lack of suitable education provision locally for the young people who cannot cope in mainstream education but for whom there is no alternative special education.
Pilot Duke of Edinburgh scheme: Through piloting the Duke of Edinburgh scheme for a small number of young people, the main thing we have learnt is that with the right level of support, the young people can gain a great sense of achievement through working towards their Duke of Edinburgh award. Although the amount of time and extra support they need is much higher than others, the benefits are also perhaps much higher, because they have had to invest so much more in achieving the different sections of the award.
As already indicated, we are still learning from this part of the project as we are training and supporting the participants towards their Bronze canoe expedition.
Up to 20 young people will have taken part in a series of short outdoor activity sessions in activities such as canoeing, climbing, biking, skiing.
17 young people with autism took part in at least one series of activity sessions in the following activities, mountain biking, foundation trail cycling, canoeing, indoor climbing, outdoor climbing and skiing. A couple of young people took part in more than 1 activity. As well as having fun, most of the young people gained new skills or improved existing skills through taking part in the activities.
4 young people with autism took part in a skiing day in November 2017 on the dry ski slope at Abernethy Trust, Nethybridge. Two of them had never skiied before, the other 2 had only had a short go prior to the day. They all progressed really well and gained in confidence as their skiing improved. As a result of the day, all 4 were confident enough to join us on our Beginner's ski weekend in February 2018, when they were able to put their new skills into practice on the snow slopes at the Lecht. 3 of them had a full day's skiing with/without an overnight stay and one teenager had 2 full day's skiing and stayed all weekend, supported by his Mum. One of the girls was also able to join us for a day on our Intermediate ski weekend later that month which developed her skills and confidence even further.
Up to 40 carers of young people with a social communication difficulty will have improved well-being due to having a break from their caring role.
While we were running all the activities of the different parts of the project 36 carers of young people with autism had improved well-being due to the break from their caring role. During the break they were able to spend more quality time with other family members, use the time to do an activity for themselves or just take the opportunity to rest and relax.
Prior to the project most of the 36 carers were either not receiving any break from their caring role or just a very limited break. For one Mum who during the last year has become the sole carer for her teenage daughter who is also home schooled because she cannot cope with the demands of mainstream schooling. The breaks she has had from her full-time caring role have been especially important to help her maintain and improve her own well-being. Her feedback illustrates this: "My daughter really enjoys all her outdoor activities. She has had a chance to try many new activities and as she has learnt that she enjoys them, looks forward to trying them again. Besides her having some fun away from me, I also enjoy taking a little break knowing she is safe and having fun. With her being away at these sessions I get a chance to recharge my batteries which makes me a better carer".
Up to 8 family members will get a chance to try different outdoor activities, without the worry of caring for their young person.
To deliver this outcome we ran a trial family camp where we invited young people and families on an activity weekend. The young people stayed in one chalet at Abernethy Trust, Nethybridge and the family members stayed in another chalet. The young people were supported by Reach4Reality staff and volunteers and the family group were supported by another Reach4Reality staff member and a volunteer. The 2 chalets had their own separate programme of activities and the 2 groups only met up at mealtimes or during free time. Because of the limited dates available for the weekend, some families who would have been interested in coming were unable to come and in the end we had just 3 family members on the camp, two Mums and an older sister. However, they were able to enjoy a full activity programme over the weekend with activities including: zip-wire, dry slope skiing, team challenges, archery and canoeing; and for those 3 family members the outcome was fully achieved.
Before the family camp the family members had each had very few opportunities to try any outdoor activities, especially on their own or outside of their caring role. Feedback from the 3 family members illustrates how much they enjoyed the opportunity to try the activities: "It was great going to the family camp. I felt like a kid again going to camp!"; "This weekend was a great success, enjoyable, relaxing, fun! Great to get a taste of what our young people do with Reach4Reality and to get to play!"; "It was good to connect with other families, to have fun and a chance to do the activities"; "It was a relaxing time away from home and I feel I've had a really good rest"; "It was good to try the new activities and has helped me to bond more with my sister as well as given me ideas about taking her out and about a bit more". One family member was also thinking of taking up archery herself on a more regular basis.
Up to 40 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.
For each of the different parts of the project 36 carers of young people with autism were involved in the planning of the activities their son/daughter received to ensure that the activities were tailored to their individual needs. Activities included both 1:1 sessions, small group sessions, day, overnight, weekend or 5 day camps. We did this through pre and post activity home visits to the young people and their carers.
See case study 2 which illustrates how one of the Mums of a teenager with autism feels better supported to sustain her caring role, mainly through the 1:1 work and day activities we have provided. Other comments from parents include: "Camps and visits from the Project Worker help me feel like I don't have to deal with difficulties on my own"; "her time at Reach4Reality allows me to have time to myself when I know she is enjoying activities in a safe and nurturing environment - I am able to relax knowing she is having all her needs well met"; "I feel able to enjoy a break when he is away with Reach4Reality- I don't have any breaks otherwise".
Up to 10 young people will have taken part in a range of activities within the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme.
This outcome has been fully achieved. Since September 2017 we have been supporting 8 young people to work towards their Bronze Duke Of Edinburgh Award and 1 towards his Silver award. The amount of support each young person has needed has varied, for example one young person has been using sessions on his fitness bike at home for his physical section, whereas another has enjoyed weekly climbing sessions with a member of staff at the local indoor climbing wall; and a third young person, with her Dad, has a weekly session of archery at a local archery centre. For all the activities they have undertaken so far, the young people have been encouraged and supported to use local mainstream activities, facilities or leisure services.
Before we started running the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme as a pilot for the young people, none of them were able to access it through school or other providers. This was because either the schools could not provide the level of support that they would need, they would not be able to cope in the larger groups (especially regarding the expedition section) at school or in the local open Duke of Edinburgh group, or they were home schooled. The young person who is working towards his Silver award managed to complete his Bronze award while he was still at school, but was really disappointed that the college he now attends 3 days a week was not able to offer him the opportunity to do his Silver award. For his volunteering section we (a member of staff or volunteer) have been supporting him each week to take dogs from one of the local animal rescue centres for a walk: whilst he is responsible for the dog on the walk, we have been there to ensure his safety as well as helping him to develop his awareness of other walkers and dogs. He has said that he really enjoys this and that he feels useful. For his skills section he has been developing the horticulture skills he has been learning at college. His Mum says: "He has really wanted to do Duke of Edinburgh and was only able to do Bronze at school. So this has definitely widened his access to activities and included him. It has also helped us and him to consider new activities. So he is hoping to learn to surf this summer in Lossiemouth for his physical section". The skills section has enabled the young people taking part to learn new skills such as playing the guitar, singing in a choir, and digital media skills. For the volunteering section other young people have been doing the following: up-cycling furniture for a local charity, learning and carrying out archery maintenance tasks, helping with a children's group at her family's Church. The volunteering section has really helped some of the young people's confidence grow as they have developed new skills, as well being able to contributing positively to groups within the local community.
From the pilot family camp and the pilot scheme of running Duke of Edinburgh with a small group of people, we will have gained a better understanding and awareness of how these can meet the needs of young people with autism and of their carers. This will be shared through local contacts and networks.
Through the pilot family camp we gained a greater understanding of some of the difficulties the families face in caring for their young person with autism, as the weekend gave them the opportunity to share experiences and ideas. It also gave the family members a greater understanding and awareness of what the young people are capable of, as well as giving them a taste of what their son/daughter may be feeling e.g. anxiety of fear but also pride and a sense of achievement when they succeed at an activity or at staying away overnight for the first time. Trialling the Duke of Edinburgh has highlighted the amount of extra support the young people need as they work towards their awards, but also confirmed the benefits for them in terms of self-confidence and independence skills. As we support the young people with their expedition, we are gaining a greater understanding of the challenges of this for them. Sharing with local contacts and networks is ongoing.
Trialling the Duke of Edinburgh has increased our awareness of the extra challenges young people with autism face in working towards their award, for example: choosing their activities can be harder, and it is important to find one which matches their interests and abilities, they may then need extra support to access their activity, recording their progress on EDOFE can also a challenge for them. Finding an opportunity for their volunteering section can be difficult as they, and their families, may not have access or the confidence to do a volunteering activity especially one which involves a degree of social interaction. However, with creativity, small steps and a lot of time from Reach4Reality staff and volunteers, these barriers can be overcome. Feedback from parents has already identified some of the benefits for the young people taking part: "Taking part in her Duke of Edinburgh has meant that she is involved in regular exercise, is learning new skills and taking part in activities she wouldn't otherwise do. We hope she will continue with some of her activities after she finishes her Duke of Edinburgh"; "he is very excited about his expedition and has been preparing his rucksack for weeks now. He is learning a lot of valuable skills"; "He has been dog walking for his Silver Duke of Edinburgh and has really enjoyed this - it gets him out of the house and mixing with people in the community. He is benefiting in so many ways". We are hoping to continue to share our learning and experience with other organisations offering the Duke of Edinburgh to young people with additional support needs both locally and across Scotland.