We hope everyone had a happy and healthy Christmas! The New Year is approaching quickly, and today we would like to look to one of our youth Clients, Heidi, for inspiration in terms of learning and growing in the new year.
Heidi is 13 years old has been living in an Entrust youth residential care home since April 2015. Heidi has Autism Spectrum Disorder and is nonverbal. When Heidi first moved into the group home, it was a tough transition. She tested all the boundaries, going AWOL several times. The only way she knew how to communicate with others was by taking someone’s hand and leading them to what she wanted. For example, she would take a staff member’s hand and lead them to the refrigerator door when she was hungry or to the front door to indicate her desire to go outside.
Close your eyes for a moment. Think back to when you were thirteen years old. Try to imagine not having the capacity to speak or communicate, in any form. Think about how hard and scary it would be to attain your very basic needs - let alone transitioning into adulthood and going to school. Imagine not being able to express your fears, worries, or desires. It would take a brave soul with a strong will to learn and grow to preserve in these circumstances.
Although a difficult transition in the beginning, Heidi became responsive to the help of her house manager, Jai, and the rest of the Entrust support team. They worked diligently to help her gain communication skills using visual aids. Heidi’s behaviour specialist collaborated with her residential team to create a binder of simple visuals of basic needs such as different drinks, foods and activities. The team worked with Heidi by exchanging a desirable (like her favourite juice box) to motivate her to use the pictures to show her needs and wants. With repetitive trials, Heidi quickly established the connection that she could get her favourite juice or a snack by handing over the corresponding picture to a staff member. Heidi learned quickly, and the support staff have now graduated to providing choices to Heidi which she can choose from (the Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS). The entire support team is now working on using visuals to create schedules and making her life more structured, predictable, and comfortable.
Communication and interaction can be anxiety provoking for all of us. Just think of how hard it must have been for Heidi when she was trying to learn a new method of communication, in a new home, as an adolescent. Yet Heidi’s willingness to grow and learn has opened a channel for communication that helps her attain what she needs.
We encourage everyone to channel their inner Heidi in 2016 and push through fear and uncertainty to grow and learn!