Practitioner insight

Practitioner insights: 6 ways to support autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic 

Practitioner insights: 6 ways to support autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic 

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything most of us have had to deal with. With schools closed, routines and support services disrupted, and increasing concerns all round, it’s easy for us to feel like we’ve lost control. As Kineara’s practitioners continue to provide school-home services and adapt to the changing circumstances, our priority concern is, and will always be, about the safety and wellbeing of the people and families we work with. 
 
In light of this, combined with Autism Awareness and Stress Awareness Month, here are our top recommendations from Gail McNelly, Kineara’s Motivate to Educate (M2E) Lead Practitioner, for parents and carers of autistic children. The hope is to encourage positive coping and wellbeing for yourself and your children during this challenging time.

1. Keep your day as close to the school day as possible

Autistic children may feel anxiety about unexpected changes and events, as highlighted this month by the National Autistic Society. Giving children advanced notice about practical activities, space to express themselves, and time to come to terms with the various changes are very important during this time. “Most children with autism thrive on routine and structure,” says Gail, “Keeping to a good routine as close to the school day as possible can help you and your child maintain some control during this unpredictable time.”

2. Create a visual timetable to support daily routines

Supporting autistic children in understanding and navigating the COVID-19 situation is often best when combined with visuals. A visual timetable, for example, helps children to “know exactly when they are learning, eating, and have free time to play, as well a process information in multiple formats” says Gail. You could also customise a visual timetable with an interest of theirs – for example, with football, you could include space for football stickers and pictures.

3.  Observe their play, get involved and follow their lead

Making the most of your time together is now more important than ever. “You could spend time doing fun and creative activities,” says Gail. Much of what works will depend on your child but some ideas include: “Reading stories, baking fun biscuits, singing songs (nursery rhymes for younger children), trying different exercises, yoga or relaxation techniques, or using sensory objects to have calming down time.”

4. Build on strengths and talk about their interests

Supporting autistic children, Gail uses a variety of tools and resources to build on their individual strengths. Some of these include custom-made emotion cards to help communicate how they are feeling, bite-sized visual instructions and practical breathing/relaxation exercises. 
 
Working with one M2E pupil, Gail found that Talib loved trains and had memorised almost every journey. Therefore, she suggested that dad take him on train journeys and make it a reward for him. If this wasn’t possible, simply talking to Talib about trains, or buying a toy train as a reward and acknowledgement would help to strengthen positive relationships.

5. Be available to answer any questions

It’s normal for your child to feel nervous or anxious about COVID-19, so talk to your child about what is going on and answer any questions in a clear and easy-to-understand way. “An autistic child has a different way of understanding, learning and communicating,” says Gail. She adds that getting to know your child and what works for them, providing reassurance to your child, and letting your child feel their emotions, are all helpful ways to support their wellbeing.

6. A final message for parents

“If both parents live together and are available, take turns to have a rest at a certain point in each day,” says Gail, “I would also advise parents to take 30 minutes each day doing something to de-stress like guided visualisation, yoga or reading.” 
 
Gail also highlights the benefits of introducing family routines, particularly sleep routines, to deal with hyperactivity, anxiety and strengthen relationships. Reflecting on one M2E case, Gail explains, “He would have a warm bath with lavender, a short massage and a short story before bed. He was also given a worry book and a happy book where he would express his feelings and share them with mum during the sessions.” 
 
“Parenting is a very tough job but learning about your child and how they think is also a learning for ourselves. We must find new routines, different structures and work hard together to creates some positive changes within the family home.” 

Useful links 

Find out more about Motivate to Educate. 
 
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Posted by kineara in Education
GPS, snack bars and fully charged phone: A practitioner’s survival guide

GPS, snack bars and fully charged phone: A practitioner’s survival guide

In the busy, complex and varied world of family support, our practitioners have to be prepared for anything. Here is our ultimate guide for surviving a day in the life of a Kineara practitioner.

 

Properly functioning GPS, and plenty of data

Ever had that sinking feeling when you’re on your way to an appointment and your map app has taken you in the wrong direction? Sandra was recently driving to a meeting and found herself green fields around farm yard animals, until she realized her data had failed her miles before and her GPS had gone haywire.

Snack bars

I was lucky enough to overhear an important conversation in our office yesterday about which snack bar really is the best go-to when you’re feeling hungry, you’re on the move, and in-between appointments. There was no consensus on brand, but a definite agreement that snack bar in your pocket is an indispensable part of a practitioner toolkit.

 

Charger bank

Equally important is a charger bank to make sure you never suddenly run out of battery while on the move. Being constantly on the go from appointment to appointment, how did support workers even manage before the mobile phone came along?

 

Umbrella and comfortable shoes

Of course, this is a given. Anyone who has trudged the streets of London in the winter knows an umbrella is a must, and comfortable shoes will always be top choice over our new stylish favourites – running to catch that bus or standing in line at the housing office with our clients calls for comfort all the way.

 

Coffee shop loyalty card

For Liz, that on-the-go coffee from her favourite place keeps her going through the day, and why not make sure you get that 10th coffee for free?

 

Your favourite podcast or playlist

And finally…to help you wind down after a heavy day, our practitioners recommend keeping your favourite podcast ready or a playlist with your best loved songs to accompany you home. Self-care is just as important as the care we offer our families, and this is a tip to help you switch off from the pressures of the day and enjoy your evening…before the new day rolls around.

Are you a support worker or practitioner that can relate to our guide? What tips would you share for getting through a busy day? Let us know!

 

Our team is growing! We currently have an open vacancy for a housing support practitioner. If you would like to join our team to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, get in touch with us.

Find out more about our impact.

Read more about the work of our practitioners, including how to support pupils through the stress of exams.

Posted by kineara in Community, Education, Housing
Practitioner insights: How complex cases can impact our mental health and wellbeing

Practitioner insights: How complex cases can impact our mental health and wellbeing

Operating within frontline roles, our practitioners work directly with individuals and families experiencing mental health problems and/or multi-complex needs. Following World Mental Health Day, we ask our practitioners to share experiences relating to mental health and wellbeing at work, including the impact of working on intense cases and proven ways to support their own mental health and wellbeing.

There is a strong link between our mental and physical health and just like our physical health, our mental health needs looking after. Research indicates that one in four of us will experience some form of mental ill health in the course of a year. What’s more, MHFA believes mental health lies on a continuum, which like a spectrum, can change overtime depending on early identification, prevention and treatment.

Having delivered a range of specialist programmes that address key barriers to housing security, employment and education, our practitioners understand the importance of providing appropriate support to people experiencing mental ill health as part of their person-centred, holistic approach. However, we often forget that support professionals – be it, social workers, health professionals or support workers – who provide vital support to others, can also be affected by the intensity of the cases they work with.

Multi-complex needs and intense support

Rujia, our dedicated school-based practitioner, explains how the complex nature and intensity of certain cases means that some personal impact is almost inevitable: “In general, I think when working in this field it is difficult not to be impacted by other people’s circumstances because of the compassion we feel for others.”

“Previously, I worked with someone from our drop-in sessions who needed emotional support on an issue I have experienced myself. I felt a lot of empathy for this client and instantly found myself checking whether I am over-identifying with what she is saying and how best I can help her.”

“It’s important to reflect on our feelings and emotions and check where our responses are coming from to ensure our focus is the client. Being aware of our feelings also helps us to recognise the impact clients can have on us as it can trigger emotions in us that we then need to work through.”

Liz, our NLP practitioner echoes this: “In relation to the type of work that we do my first instinct is to support those who need support the most. Even when I feel like my cup is half empty, I find myself still pouring from my cup because I feel like someone else needs it more.”

Whilst drawing from experience and tapping into our positive traits can offer insight when dealing with cases, it’s important to check what impact a client’s situation is having on us, adds Rujia. “It’s very important to be mindful of whether we are over-identifying because that could make us move away from fully recognising what the client needs. We have to remember that everyone is different and therefore may experience things differently and need different things.”

A reflective approachA reflective approach

As a practitioner, Rujia highlights the importance of reflecting on our own feelings and emotions and check where our responses are coming from: “This ensures our focus is the client. Being aware of our feelings is also very important so we can recognise the impact clients have on us, as it can trigger emotions in us that we then need to work through,” she says.

“Sometimes even when I’m not working, I am thinking about the family and what else I need to do to support them! This can become unhealthy because it can become mentally and physically draining and we all need our break away from work and spend some time in our personal lives,” explains Rujia.

Fortunately, this is something Rujia recognised during a de-briefing session with a colleague: “Upon reflection, I was able to identify why I was feeling so tired. I then had to consciously make the effort to put some healthy boundaries in place by agreeing what goals I can work on with the family, as well as sticking to my working hours unless working evenings was planned for a specific reason. The families we work with often have multiple issues and we are working with for a limited time period, so having boundaries helps me work more effectively and not spread myself too thinly.”

“The families we work with often have multiple issues and we are working with for a limited time period, so having boundaries helps me work more effectively and not spread myself too thinly.”

The impact of mental health has huge social and economic costs; studies reveal the total economic cost in England is estimated at £105 billion per year and that 84 percent of UK line managers believe they are responsible for employee wellbeing, but only 24 percent have received relevant training. “It’s that energy and love which is fine but I think if you start to feel like it’s affecting you outside of the workplace it will affect the amount of time you spend at work,” says Liz, “I’ve learnt to lean on some of the support of my manager and team, especially if I feel like I’m having a day where there are a lot of intense cases or I just need some support.”

Mental health in the workplace

When it comes to looking after our mental health in the workplace, Liz and Rujia have found peer supervision particularly helpful. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on my work and the impact of the work on my own well-being and the importance of our own well-being in this field of work. Having a supportive supervisor who understands the impact of working with intense and complex cases is very important, not just for our own wellbeing but the wellbeing of the families we support,” says Rujia.

Reflecting on past cases, Liz adds: “In supervision, we can talk through difficult cases and dissect the different barriers and/or the crisis that individual is experiencing. In that space you kind of offload everything going on at work or personal life.”

“One thing we learnt was the Mental Health Continuum – that our place on the scale is constantly changing and that most of the time there are no absolutes in mental health.”

Mental health in the workplaceSince completing the MHFA training, Tam, Comms Officer at Kineara, believes that she is better equipped to offer a listening ear and support to our team of practitioners, and more aware of what signs to look out for. “I now understand how and why dealing with complex and intense cases can impact the wellbeing of our support practitioners. One of the most important things we learned was the Mental Health Continuum – that our place on the scale is constantly changing and that most of the time there are no absolutes in mental health. Sometimes it’s just taking the time to check in, ask twice and listen.”

The power of mediation

Despite the intense workload, our practitioners are passionate about the work they do. “Once I started seeing work as helping anyone in need which could even be myself, then I started seeing work/life balance as one thing. Supporting people and practicing self-love is part and parcel of who am, so I don’t really see it as I’m leaving work on the coat hanger and going home, I see it as just a part of me,” says Liz.

Crucially, both Rujia and Liz highlight the importance of looking after our own wellbeing to be able to give their best to the people and families they support and be emotionally available for them. “I spend some time over the weekends when I am not working to do something relaxing, this can be something as simple as having a long bath or going out for dinner with a friend,” says Rujia. “This allows me to support people in any capacity in any way I can, even in my community/block or within my family – it doesn’t stop at work! It’s like a way of life – when you see it as a way of life you see beyond the crisis or the issue and you see the person for who they are,” adds Liz.

“Having someone facilitate our thoughts that are there but just need writing down on paper, so it’s seen and heard. Everyone needs encouragement and mediation, nobody can function without the support from another, including us as practitioners!”

Liz adds that practicing self-awareness to inspire the best in herself and others is so important: “I believe everyone is an expert in their own life, they are the only person who has experienced what they are telling you in entirety and full context, so the most important thing is to listen because every situation is a new situation and may require a new way of approaching things. Once they tell you their stories and their journey you realise that anyone could be in that position.”

She adds: “That’s why mediation is so important; having someone facilitate our thoughts that are there but just need writing down on paper, so it’s seen and heard. Everyone needs encouragement and mediation, nobody can function without the support from another, including us as practitioners!”

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Image credit: Mashable/Vicky Leta

Posted by kineara in Community, Latest