A story by REACH for Autism
Reaching Out has provided local children who are on the autistic spectrum and their siblings age 5 – 18yrs the opportunity to socialise and try out new activities. The children are enjoying arts and crafts and have had great trips out including trips to Linn Park, Lamont Farm and autism friendly cinema trips.
We also have weekly play sessions and music workshops which allows parents/carers to have a chance to relax or meet other parents who are in similar situations.
Through a programme of free play, music, arts and crafts and activities the children have chosen themselves the children will become more confident and outgoing and will build friendships. It will also allow parents to access peer support and/or have some time for themselves.
Tip 1:If you're a brand new project plan well ahead and make sure you have a contingency plan! As a new organisation there can be many unforseen challenges along the way (that we've had to learn from. ) Use the expertise of the Better Breaks staff if you do encounter challenges.
Tip 2:Recruit staff and have policies and procedures in place at the earliest possible time. The recruitment process can be time-consuming.
Tip 3:Always ask the children, young people and families what they want. Keep checking in with them and help them to feel a part of the decision making process so they feel more valued and listened to.
M is a teenager who is on the autistic spectrum. M has become increasingly isolated and her parents have been worried about her spending all her time in her room. Since joining the activities she has been thriving and has really enjoyed meeting with other young people who understand her. She finds it rewarding helping some of the younger children and can be seen drawing pictures for them. This has increased her confidence and she is starting to recognise her own talents and abilities. She also feels a part of something and feels involved and included. She has asked if she can volunteer to help with the younger children.
P is a 6 year old boy with autism. He finds it increasingly difficult to go into new situations and usually tries to leave any new activities. By allowing him to come along and stay for short periods and building on this each week he is becoming more outgoing and starting to participate in new activities each week. His parents are delighted and feel its because things are on his terms.
T is parent to 3 children - one of whom is on the autistic spectrum. She says " My daughter absolutely loves the activities. She looks forward to it every week and talks about everything she's done when she comes home. It also gives me much needed respite". As a result of this T feels more relaxed and rested.
Many of them have been involved in designing and making decorations and signs for our new premises and they have really felt a part of something special. The children are forming new friendships and building on existing ones and are less isolated. We have also had fabulous days out to Lamont Farm and Linn Park.
At the farm they were involved in feeding the animals, which they loved. As a result of visiting the farm, 3 of our teenagers now volunteer there on a Sunday morning. We continue to engage with our parents and carers regularly to ensure we're on track and that they and the children are happy. Many of our parents tell us they are so happy to see their children build new friendships and to be participating in activities they enjoy.
We also have remained flexible so that if something needs "tweaking" to best meet the child or carers needs we can do that. The children have a selection of activities to choose from and are offered free play along with more structured activities.
We continue to check in with parents and children throughout the project to ensure we're delivering what they want.
They are responding to and engaging well with staff and volunteers and are becoming more confident in asking for what they want and even initiating conversations.
We expected to be in our own premises by August 2013. Many of our parents expressed concern about changing venues after a few weeks and that it may be detrimental to their children, so we made the decision to start the project at the beginning of August. Unfortunately our premises were delayed and we were unable to secure another suitable venue for many weeks as most were unsafe for the range of children's needs.
We eventually secured venues but again there have been many changes which has been a challenge but we've managed to work around it and most of the children have responded well and are excited about moving into their "very own building" next week with careful planning from staff.
The biggest challenge has been running the project alongside the refurbishment and opening of our new premises which has been a mammoth task. On hindsight it may have been better to wait until we already had premises open but then the children and families who have benefited this year wouldn't have.
We've learned a huge amount in regards to running a project within our project. In fact being a new parent-led organisation all aspects of the project have been hugely beneficial and given us the confidence to continue to deliver this type of work for families in Inverclyde.
Staff training around child protection was an issue as we were unable to train all our staff and volunteers at the same time in Inverclyde. However we eventually managed to outsource and have now met with Head of Service at Inverclyde Council who will offer us a bespoke training in future.
Our Project Manager also had a baby which was unexpected at the time funding was given which probably held the project back but only for a few weeks as little maternity time was taken.
Some of the benefits have actually been some of the challenges!
Some of the children have adapted really well to the changes surprising their parents and staff. Some families are also meeting up outwith the social activities continuing to develop the children's friendships. The children have been designing and making decorations etc for the new premises so they're starting to feel it's "theirs".
We've helped to identify some gaps with training in Inverclyde which has now been flagged and is being addressed.
We're working more closely with another agency who had referred a couple of families to us for the activities - demonstrating good partnership working which is much more beneficial for the families.
All of our children (excluding some siblings) have autism and many also have co-existing diagnosis of ADHD, dyspraxia and learning difficulty.
The funding application process was straightforward and staff were incredibly helpful and friendly.
We also check in each week with the children to find out if they are enjoying the activities and regularly talk to parents to find out the difference they are making.
Our staff and volunteers also check in at the end of each session to evaluate how each session has been and ways to change/improve what we are doing.
We also take pictures regularly so that we can reflect back at the end of our project as a reminder of what the children and young people have achieved.