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Enhancing Quality of Life...

Oldham Site

Over the past several months, staff in Training into Employment have been working with students identified as having profound and complex learning difficulties (PCLD) according to the criteria written by the project team. From this work several major themes have arisen:

Communication has proved to be a key issue, spanning a variety of levels for professionals working with students with PCLD. The students in the following illustrative case studies have been given false names to protect their anonymity.

Case study 1

I first met Joe whilst working with another student. Joe has limited communication and constantly reaches out to people. This apparent lack of integration into the curriculum intrigued me and led me to question how I could work with Joe in a meaningful way. I decided to spend time with Joe each week in both the classroom and in the community.

In many circles, Joe's reaching out and grabbing people would be seen as inappropriate behaviour. However, this was Joe's way of initiating communication so I began to reach out to him when I wanted to communicate. Joe then started to place his head at the side of mine and make a babbling sound. When I repeated the sound, Joe would continue to babble then laugh. After a period of establishing familiarity, I now greet Joe with a hand shake and speak directly into his ear. I talk about what we are going to be doing.

I am not a communication therapist and have little knowledge of formal techniques like Intensive Interaction. But in order to break down barriers with individuals who find it difficult to communicate, I have learnt to enter their world of communication as a starting point for beginning a relationship. In this instance, both the student and the professional become the learners and a more equal relationship evolves.

Case study 2

Nazrat left school and receives a service from a local day centre. Staff were unaware of the way she communicates and the communication therapist was called in to deliver training to day centre staff. Training days have been arranged for the staff using a combination of Intensive Interaction and drama therapy principles in order for staff to introduce this approach to support and meet her needs. However, this case study highlights the need for optimum communication between agencies.

Inter agency work is often necessary to meet the needs of individuals with learning difficulties. However, a longer a period of transition may be required for people with PCLD to allow for planning and training of staff in the communication needs of the individual. A communication dictionary process is being used throughout the Oldham services at present to address this issue. Normally a paper-based communication dictionary is completed by individuals close to the student and then collated by the communication therapist. However, we have progressed to making the compilation of the communication dictionary a group activity and have recorded the session on video. The advantage of this has been that members of the group can react to what others see as communication in different circumstances.

The contribution of family members can often be crucial in this respect. The video has enabled us to capture expressions, movements and interpretations which would not be as meaningful on paper. This information can then be disseminated amongst agencies involved with the individual.

The number of agencies involved in the transition of students with PCLD (and in particular, sustaining interagency aproaches) has been another theme throughout our work

Two of the agencies initially involved in the Oldham site have either transferred to another sector and changed. Their practices or are being cut due to lack of funding. If projects are identified as meeting a need and are successful, the continuation of the service should be paramount, otherwise services are entering the lives of individuals with PCLD and raising hopes and aspirations, which may not be fulfilled.

On a more positive note, one of our studetns has completed a six week work experience placement with a local supermarket. this has stimulated colleagues in the Oldham site. We have begun a process of re-evaluating our preconceptions and predictions about the opportunities that should be offered to individuals with PCLD and their responses to those opportunities.