GCSE results day 2021 brought much good news across Acorn and Options schools and was…
After years spent in a mental health hospital unable to communicate meaningfully, J is beginning to fulfil his potential at Options Phoenix House, part of Outcomes First Group, a therapeutic residential home in Holywell, Wales, under the guidance and support of his care team.
J has autism, his needs are complex and he is also non-verbal. After an unsuccessful college placement in his early twenties ended with J being sectioned and placed in a mental health hospital, his mother was left distraught. “In September 2018 every family’s worst nightmare happened to us, J was sectioned and placed in hospital. This was a very sad time for us as a family, we could at this point see no future for J,” his mother said.
The authorities struggled to find him a placement until a flat became available at Options Phoenix House.
After extensive observation and assessment, J transitioned out of the mental health hospital into his own flat, which had been specifically adapted to provide him with a safe, supportive environment. The team sought to understand what triggered his behaviour, with the strongly held belief that behaviour is a form of communication – and without speech J was trying to express himself in the only way he could.
Jason Hughes, Registered Manager at Options Phoenix House explained, “We take a holistic approach and always review behaviour and the best way to meet an individual’s needs before deciding on the appropriate support. Previously, at college and in the mental health hospital, J would repeatedly flood the bathrooms by flushing objects down the toilets causing blockages. The team realised that this was the way J ‘got rid of things’ he had finished with or didn’t want around him. So, we constructed a ‘laundry chute’ in the flat – J posts unwanted items and they’re deposited out of sight in a neighbouring room, now he doesn’t flood the bathroom.
“The flat is tailored to his needs – we installed sound proof flooring, rockwall PVC cladding and toughened furniture throughout. There’s an outward-facing camera, so J can see who’s at the door and he isn’t startled by people entering the flat. He loves listening to 90s pop music and has his own old fashioned CD player and access to YouTube – you can visibly see how happy he is when he is listening to his music.”
The team also observed that J always chose to sit in the corner of the room in the mental health hospital to avoid others, anxious about physical proximity and making eye contact. A monitoring window was installed in the flat so the team could observe J and likewise he could also see the team members, gradually encouraging eye-contact and desensitising these behaviours; trust was built and J became able to accept people around him inside his flat.
The team were then able to begin supporting him with personal hygiene routines; previously this had been his father’s ‘job’ making his visits very demanding and stressful for both of them. Now visits are enjoyable positive experiences. Desensitisation sessions with the local dentist were also arranged so J could access some much-needed treatment and recently he allowed the dentist to look inside his mouth, a positive first step.
Apart from understanding his behaviours and what he is communicating through them, J’s care team have been encouraging him to use his own signing – touching the bottom of his chin means ‘yes’, presenting the photos of his mum and dad indicates he wants to see them and the team organise a visit. The team also discovered that J had difficulties with his eyesight, so they created enlarged visual aids.
Jason explains, “Communication is the key – J knows he can request things, he has become less regimented, and we are encouraging him to make choices – he is an adult. He decides when he will take a bath, whatever the time of day, but he’s deciding to do that.”
For the first time in many years and to the delight of J’s family, the team organised a home visit. With careful planning, extra support staff available for J and his family, and a firm belief in positive risk-taking – planning for the risks involved because of the value of the experience – a successful and emotional visit went ahead on Mother’s Day. J’s mum commented, “This time last year we never thought our lives would feel normal again, but thanks to all at Options Phoenix House, we really are getting there. The team are amazing, the care they give and the difference they make is exceptional, I can’t thank them enough.”