Saturday Adventure Team
A story by Lothian Autistic Society
Saturday Adventure Team provided autistic young people living in East Lothian time and space to have fun, make friends and be active while their families get a valuable break from caring.
What Saturday Adventure Team did
Covid-19 meant that we had to make significant changes to the original plans for the project. However, we were able to build on the experience from running Holiday Activity Programmes during the summer and October breaks to incorporate a range of enhanced infection control measures into our operational procedures that gave reassurance to families. Staff induction included detailed guidance on these, which included advice on steps taken to maintain social distancing within the setting. In the event there were no recorded cases of Covid-19 linked to the project.
Venue, Local authorities ceased letting venues to third parties. We acquired our own property in Portobello for the delivery of all services, although this not in East Lothian there is easy access from the area.
Start date and number of sessions. Because of the above the start of the project was delayed until the end of October. We were able to deliver 14 sessions through the project (24 originally planned)
Activities, Restrictions meant that activities were limited to the venue and the immediate environs. For the major part of the project there were few opportunities to access community resources, although the location is adjacent to a large park and an easy walk to the beach, which were visited regularly.
Beneficiaries. Fifteen young people were recruited to the project through advertising in our social media, at the outset, aged between 7 and 17; there were 3 girls in the group. 10 had attended the previous programme. Attendance was less consistent than in previous programmes, largely due to concerns around Covid-19. Four individuals attended every session; conversely, five individuals stopped attending following the re-introduction of lockdown in December.
Notwithstanding the challenges that we faced, families received up to 84 hours of respite over the 14 sessions. Participants took part in a wide range of activities indoors and outdoors. Each session included opportunities to play with other beneficiaries or on their own, take part in craft work, explore the local park and other places and get space to be themselves. Meanwhile their families got valuable time to do other things.
What Lothian Autistic Society has learned
Although not limited to learning directly from this project, the need to find a venue when community facilities were no longer available has obliged the charity to take on management responsibility for its own premises. This has required additional time and activities that are not easily covered within the existing staffing resource. We have managed to adapt to deal with this over the past twelve months, albeit this has been achieved during a period of limited direct working with children. Assuming we re-establish a position where a full suite of services is running we will need to consider how we factor in the additional work required.
Covod-19 has required a radical rethink in how we deal with physical contact, both between children and their peers and between children and staff. Covid-19 has generated massive anxieties around this, yet physical contact is essential to building the types of relationships that make for effective working. Taking a flexible and inclusive approach to this has allowed workers to find innovative ways to build relationships.
Changes to working practices meant that participants were dropped off and picked up outside the venue with minimal contact with support staff. This has limited information sharing about children, in its absence we have realised just how important these, often short, interchanges are to understanding more effectively the impact of our work.
How Lothian Autistic Society has benefitted from the funding
We have been able to deliver a valuable service to families in East Lothian. For many this is a lifeline as there is a dearth of provision in the local authority area. The comments from families regarding the impact of the lockdown is indicative of the importance of the service to them. For many, their child became increasingly withdrawn and anxious and could not understand what was happening. The resumption of service has played a significant part in re-establishing routine and opportunity for the participants and their carers.
15 children and young people with autism will have enjoyed a programme of activities and outings that have stimulated them and had the opportunity to develop new friendships
Fifteen young people were recruited to the programme, although Covid-19 restriction meant that average attendance at each session was 9. There was a structured programme for each session, with a range of activities including physical games, craft work, board games and free play. Travel restrictions and the closure of most attractions meant that sessions were confined to the local area around the venue, although this is well placed for access to a local park and the beach in Portobello. There were a couple of visiting activities, including a visit from Cool Creatures, which was arranged outside the building to keep it a safe as possible.
When we had the visit from Cool Creatures one child was very nervous. The group and animals where all outside, while he sat inside at the window to start with to watch. He was nervous, he wasn’t sure what to expect and was scared the animals may bite and not like being held. He started to watch his friends hold and be close to the animals. He started to relax. He could see his friends having fun and soon went out to sit with them. His experience of the session changed. He was given time/space to be able to observe and decide for himself if he would like to join in. The staff member he was with has a built up a relationship where she knows by giving him this time he can relax take it in and enjoy himself.
The families/carers of 15 children and young people with autism will have benefitted from up to 144 hours break from caring, allowing them to spend time doing things with other family members or on their own
Families had access to 84 hours of respite, lower than the 144 hours originally planned. This was largely due to the challenge of finding a venue which effectively took 5 sessions (30 hours) out of the programme along with the delay due to the lockdown in the second quarter of 2020.
"Saturday Adventure Team is a lifeline for our family, it's the only group our son L can attend where he is understood and his needs are met. Through Covid it provided a routine, consistency and some normality in a very difficult time" "The children were able to have some well deserved fun and it was greatly appreciated that the club was able to function through this time. The staff were amazing in working through this time. Saturday Adventure Team is such a great place for the children, L enjoys his time here very much and has attended for a number of years now I can honestly say we would be lost without it"
Families and carers will have gained confidence through knowing that their child has been appropriately supported by skilled staff who understand their child’s needs
Almost all of the staff who worked in the project had worked in the previous project in Haddington. Many of the children had also attended previously, which meant that good relationships had already been established between the support workers and the children/young people attending. The experience of the staff team meant that new members were quickly and effectively integrated into the group soon after starting. The established relationships between staff and families gave them the reassurance they needed to feel comfortable leaving their child at the SAT. Many of the participants had become much less confident during the lockdown, with families feeling significantly increased strain from caring full time for their child. The resumption of the SAT was a lifeline for many of the families.
"Saturday Adventure Team has been a life saver for our family, it was the only club we had access to for a while just after lockdown last year. A really enjoys it and is always happy when we pick him up. It also allows my husband and I to spend time with our other son, J, and do activities such as go to the cinema or a restaurant, things that A doesn't enjoy and struggles to take part in. Saturday Adventure Team adds more routine to A's week which makes a huge difference to his overall mood." "The Saturday Adventure Team helped F, myself and our family massively since November, it really gave F some structure and it gave the rest of the family some well needed rest time, I truly don't know what we would do without the help of the club now its been a massive help to myself, F and our Family, F loves coming and that makes it all worth it."
Families will report that they have had valuable breaks from caring and that their child has been more active
Each session plan includes a period of active play and opportunities to walk to the park or the beach. Most participants take part in these activities, those that do not wish to join in are supported in the venue by their support worker. Families have reported that they value the time their child is at the SAT
A parent informed the project leader that her son was struggling through Covid and all aspects of his daily routine being completely changed. He was not leaving the house at all by the end of the summer months would not even venture into their garden. He was extremely anxious and withdrawn. After a few weeks of being back attending SAT it was very apparent he wanted to play outside but his anxiety was taking over. We introduced the use of Certificates and medals for when he left the venue. This was a huge hit and he now plays outside, goes to the park or on A local walk. This has made a massive impact at home as well as school as he is able to access outside space feeling happy and excited to do so. "Our son attended the Saturday club. During Covid this was such a welcome outside club for him to attend as he found it very difficult with everything being closed and unavailable to him otherwise. We were happy that he was in place which he really enjoyed and got a lot out of. The fact that there were highly trained staff there was also a big factor and that it ran for a meaningful amount of time too. In turn it also meant that we could focus on other members of the family as well as do necessary tasks. It made a huge difference to us and is a really important club for families to be able to access."