The Coronavirus has forced us all to work in different ways. The Communication and Autism Team (CAT) in Birmingham have risen to the challenge to support the families of children and young people on our caseload. In normal circumstances, we mainly work with pupils within their school environment. However, many of our caseload pupils are remaining at home which has raised new challenges for their families.CAT have had to think flexibly about how we can reach autistic children and young people and support their families to support them while they are at home.
In this post, we will outline some of the ways in which we have supported from a distance and discuss the impact this has had on our families.
How have CAT supported families in this time of crisis?
The importance of connecting with our pupils and families and listening to them has always been a top priority for us in the Communication and Autism Team. We have always aimed to develop positive relationships of trust with the young people we work with as well as with their parents/carers. We have connected at this time in the following ways:
- Via established relationships with families who have contacted their CAT worker individually
- Via sending out an information sheet which contains a contact email address for a parent to access support
- Via SENCos, teachers and Head teachers requesting our involvement following their own calls to families
- Information on using visual timetables, supporting anxiety and setting up learning at home being available through the Local Authority website
- Via active and regular conversations with schools around support needs of their families
Contact has been via phone, email or, in some cases, video calls.
Each connection has been logged on a spreadsheet shared on Microsoft Teams and CAT team members complete this after each connection made. This information is collated each week and an analysis made around themes discussed in calls and emails. This then informs any information which is uploaded on the parent support section of the Access To education webpages on the Birmingham City Council website by the Communication and Autism parent support team. Parents/carers can then return to this information and refer back to it.
Parents have given positive feedback to support they have received. Comments have included how quickly they received a response following emailing and requesting support; how it has been good to talk to someone who listens; how they will try strategies, often reporting at a week later check in, that the strategy has helped; and how their CAT worker is he only non-school professional their young person will speak to.
What else can we do?
CAT team members are looking into how we can securely deliver our parent autism awareness course using online tools. This course is usually offered face to face and is aimed at parents/carers of children and young people who have recently received a diagnosis of autism.
The main things we have found:
- Parents and carers value the calls they have received.
- Listening is sometimes more powerful than giving strategies
- Our prior knowledge of the young person greatly supports conversations, and this helps parent/carers feel secure in advice given
- Schools are positive about the input and advice we provide
This period has been challenging for all of us. Connecting has been advocated as a way of supporting well-being. It has been a privilege to come alongside our families in Birmingham to offer a listening ear and some support and it has enabled us to get to know many of our families in a deeper way.
Looking to the future:
At the Communication and Autism Team, we are now thinking ahead around ways in which we can support our children and young people and their families through the transition process back into educational settings. This will create new challenges for us all, but, working with a flexible and creative team, we will find new ways to support to meet those challenges.
Written by Wendy Peel