Putting myself in his shoes

People communicate in many ways – different languages, different sign languages and even how we react physically when talking with someone can all vary greatly. Communication can be a challenge for people with Autism so, as part of Autism Awareness Week, we are looking at some of the different ways we communicate with people we support. Here we meet Simon, a Senior Support Worker, who talks to us about his first meeting with Bill and his experiences using objects of reference.

The first time I met Bill* I was sat in the lounge and, after I introduced myself, Bill took my hand and led me into the kitchen and over to the kettle. Although he didn’t speak, he took out a cup, coffee and tea from the cupboard. I asked Bill which one he wanted and he picked up the tea so we made a cup together.  Bill’s skill in communicating without speech helped make a potentially awkward first meeting a lot easier as I was able to follow his actions.

We approached our Intensive Support Team to show us different ways that people like to communicate. Jess and Anthony visited and through guidance, support and assistance, we first began to use objects of reference. Since then, we have created a communication passport which Bill has worked on with the whole of his support team.

Bill is a huge foodie and we make sure we always visit the pub, café, or take something along with us when we do go out! We are always looking to find new, exciting things for Bill to experience and try. He’ll always let us know if he enjoys them or not.

We understand it is important for us to be clear and use short, clear sentences for Bill to understand and be able to respond to. We do this along with using Makaton, objects of reference and visual images. Positive body language, engaging with Bill and mirroring his actions when he is happy are really important. If Bill likes a certain place, we will take a photo and add it to his collection so he can decide if he wants to return at a later date.

Before coming to Certitude, I wasn’t aware of the potential challenges people we support can face daily particularly in relation to understanding what is happening around them and in turn being understood. During a training session with the Intensive Support Team about sensory overload, we were asked to wear glasses that had scratched lenses with paint smeared on them. We also wore gloves to affect our sense of touch and had marbles in our shoes. A colleague gave instructions to complete tasks at the same time as sounding a horn and playing a recording of a plane taking off and landing. The tasks – matching up pairs of socks, filling a jug with water then putting on our coats and walking around the room – were very tricky and it was very disorienting and confusing. This experience is something I keep in mind when supporting Bill out in crowded places or if we go somewhere that he isn’t familiar with.

I’ve realised the best way to support Bill is by putting myself in his shoes – this gives me a better understanding and perspective of how he sees the world.


*name has been changed to protect identity