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Lockdown setbacks to skills development leads to new approach to continued learning

The pandemic is keeping all of us at home and away from interacting with others. It has fundamentally disrupted our lives and thrown everyday routines into disarray. Adjusting to these changes and creating new routines is very stressful. This is especially so for people with autism, who have great difficulty coping with any type of change, let alone the cataclysm one brought about by Covid-19. Young people with autism are especially vulnerable to developing heightened anxiety and mental health issues as a result of lockdown. This is a real concern for many of our clients, who have autism in addition to learning disabilities. The cost of the pandemic on their mental health is still unknown.

Many of our clients will not have understood what is happening in the outside world with the Covid crisis, but they are experiencing the stark impact it is having on their everyday lives and the disruption to familiar patterns and routines. These familiar daily routines are extremely important to clients who have autism. They are used to a finite number of transitions in a day – even a simple act, such as getting dressed in the morning is counted as a daily transition. Any more than this set number or interruptions to these transitions can set off anxiety and create high levels of stress, which in turn negatively impacts upon our clients’ wellbeing and mental health. Lockdown has made managing anxiety amongst our clients and maintaining routines, even more of a challenge. We have had to find creative ways of continuing with what is ‘normal’ in a completely abnormal situation.

One of the ways of doing this is by continuing with clients’ education and skills development, which is very important for the adults in our care. Without key skills, such as literacy and numeracy, clients will not be able to integrate with society, which is one of our main aims in enabling them to lead independent lives.

Many clients have come to live with us from residential colleges, where they were, to a large extend, sheltered from many everyday experiences. Coming to Field Lane, where they are living as part of a community in the adult world, is a huge leap. They may even attend mainstream college and/or day centres and have to adapt to a whole new world not only where they live but where they study and learn new skills. For our clients to succeed at college and at the day centres, to build up and retain news skills, these must be consistently and constantly reinforced, to become part of a regular routine, which becomes as familiar as eating breakfast every morning.

The interruption to study, learning and developing new skills has been extremely challenging and stressful for our clients, who risk falling back on the progress they were making prior to lockdown.

We have tried to facilitate and replicate some of this by developing a ‘home schooling’ approach, with staff doing more hands-on activities at home, such as crafts, cooking etc. Technology and remote learning have also played a part, in enabling clients to join in live video sessions run by the day centres and workshop providers, such as Bloomin’ Arts, Day Space and Freewheeler Theatre, all working specifically with adults who have learning disabilities. These online sessions focus on art, theatre, dance, music and singing.

However, with everything changing so rapidly it is difficult to plan and the outlook is likely to be very different when we do return to some sort of normality. Also, there is no guarantee that colleges, day centres and workshop providers, many run by charities, will survive the crisis and be able reopen. We need to create our own buffer to ensure certainty and continuity, which is so important for our clients.

To do this, we have launched a campaign to raise the funds needed to recruit our own special educational needs (SEN) teacher, to work across our projects with individuals and groups of clients. This new approach to maintaining skills development will ensure resilience, continuity, and enable us to sustain our clients’ progress as they continue to build the skills so vital to enabling them to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.

To contribute to our building skills campaign, please visit our website to find out more about how to donate.


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