a whole new worldThree years ago Ross Baker was living as a virtual hermit, but a change in support provider has enabled him to blossom and play a full part in his community. Editor Dan Parton reports

For Ross Baker, who is aged 37 and has autism, life is busy. Every week he enjoys going horse riding, swimming, trampolining and to the gym, as well as numerous other social pastimes. It’s a complete contrast to three years ago, when he was barely getting out of bed. It was only a switch in service provider that changed things for him.

Ross had been in residential care in Gloucestershire since 1999, and for a decade he enjoyed living in the home, where his needs were catered for and he took part in regular activities. But in 2009 conditions at the home began to deteriorate.

It emerged that money had been stolen from Ross’ bank account by the home’s then manager. The money was refunded, and she was dismissed. Following this, there was a regular turnover of managers – one only lasted a few days – and the quality of the service declined, according to his parents, Daniel and Angela.

“Around this time it became obvious to us that the day-to-day care being offered by the home to the clients was deteriorating badly,” says Daniel.

They say that Ross’ autism was ignored by staff who did not recognise the cause of his sometimes challenging behaviour and focused their attention on the variety of more demanding residents he lived with. “Some [residents] had severe challenging behaviour and it was these clients that required the constant attention of the staff so that more placid clients like Ross tended to be ignored and left to their own devices.

Also, it has since become evident that the staff had not recognised that Ross was autistic and were not skilled in addressing the needs of clients with autism.”

This had a serious detrimental effect on Ross. “Due to Ross being left to his own devices he became very introverted and reclusive,” explains Daniel. “Because he was not being stimulated, or indeed cared for, he became very lethargic and unhappy; so much so that for the last year he was living there he did not even leave the building and spent most of his life sitting on his bed.

“The quality of care was awful and the standard of cleanliness both regarding Ross and his surroundings were unacceptable. For example, he did not have a haircut for over a year!”

Making a move

Daniel and Angela realised they needed to move Ross somewhere more suitable – and quickly. They live in Buckinghamshire, and it was through the local county council’s care services that the Bakers were put in touch with Radian Support.

Radian Support provides care and support services to more than 500 adults across southeast England. People with learning disabilities, autism, mental health needs and older people are supported to lead fulfilling and independent lives.

“From the very first occasion that the Radian staff met Ross it became clear to them that Ross was autistic, and it was obvious to them that his then carers did not possess the proper skills to address his needs,” says Daniel. “It was their lack of understanding of Ross’ requirements that was significantly contributing to his dreadful way of life and unhappy emotional state of mind.”

Radian Support’s team then sought to understand Ross, his condition and his needs. Over a series of visits to Gloucestershire, his needs were assessed and the transition prepared so that Ross was ready to move to The Trees, a detached home in the village of Drayton Parlsow in Buckinghamshire on October 24, 2011.

The Trees has four bedrooms, each with its own en suite bathroom. Located in a quiet residential area, it is a genuine home to its residents, who are all on the autistic spectrum.

Since he came to The Trees, Ross has been included every step of the way in devising his support plans, which are centred on his needs and desires. “If we didn’t do this, the support plan would be meaningless,” says Lameck Matare, Ross’ support lead. “We have ensured that everyone is trained and knows what Ross likes and dislikes, for example, so that there is consistency in the support we give to him. We have experienced staff here who are also experts in autism.”

Lameck adds that one of the first things that Ross was given when he came to The Trees were boundaries, as well as structure and consistency to his days – things that had been lacking at his previous home, and which he values. “We gave visual aids to Ross to show the things we were going to do or places we were going to go. It was about building his confidence and trust in others.

“[At Radian Support] we don’t look at the disability, but look at the person and work on supporting what that person needs. In many other services, learning disability and autism are branded the same, so you may miss what the individual needs, which can be as simple as how a door opens or the colour of a room.”

For instance, the sensory overload Ross faced at his old home was replaced with relaxing routine, informed choices and the calming atmosphere reminiscent of a family unit. The strategies meant that within two months of moving to The Trees he was leaving the house to join in activities, such as going to the gym or the cinema.

From introvert to extrovert

Since moving to The Trees, the changes in Ross have been remarkable. “From the very first minute that Ross moved to The Trees, all the staff set about addressing his autism with great skill, compassion and acknowledge,” says Daniel.

Ross has become a far more active, extrovert man. From Monday to Friday he has a full diary [of activities].

“In addition, he is far more aware of many basic day-to-day processes such as banking, keeping his room clean and activities in the kitchen; and most importantly, his own personal hygiene requirements.”

Now, as well as taking part in daily activities in the community, Ross’ confidence has grown so much that he now enjoys regular trips away, including going to Paris on the Eurostar, spending a week in Tenerife, and visiting Bournemouth, Brighton and the Isle of Wight. More trips are planned.

“It has become fundamentally clear to us that all the staff at Radian Support understand autism in general, and Ross’ personal needs in particular,” concludes Daniel. “Because his autism has been brought out in to the open and accepted, his personal requirements are being fully addressed, which in turn are being fixed. He is virtually becoming a new person but for the better!

“We are so impressed in Ross’ newfound confidence. This has changed his whole way of life giving him fulfilment he never had before. He has always been very loving to his family, but now he is extending his lovely personality elsewhere touching the lives of his housemates, the staff and new people he comes into contact with. His future is certainly looking far more positive and radiant.”
Indeed, Ross is looking to do more and more activities and trips out in the community. “When Ross first came to us, we had to push him to do things, but now he pushes us!” laughs Lameck. “We give
him independence of choice and enable him to do things to his full potential.”

Lameck adds that one of the next steps for Ross will be looking to get him into a job or perhaps a voluntary role in the community. “He is certainly capable of doing this,” he says.