An empowering approach to disability support.

Anglicare has a specialist team supporting Tasmanians with disability to communicate their needs and preferences.

Some people with intellectual or cognitive disabilities have particular communication challenges – but still ‘speak’ through their behaviour.

Anglicare has a skilled team of behaviour support specialists who work to identify the messages being communicated and ensure people with disability can participate as fully as possible. We asked team leader and psychologist Dr Kristen Foss about this important work.

What can happen when people with disability have difficulty communicating?

It can be difficult for some people to communicate or express themselves, and this has meant support networks have tended to make assumptions about their wants and needs, and how they might feel.

But sometimes these assumptions, although well-meaning, are not right, and this can lead to people feeling, amongst other emotions, frustrated, angry or bored. These feelings might then be released through behaviours which are considered unacceptable.

How does a behaviour support practitioner work with people to reduce behaviours of concern?

With a focus on justice and compassion we aim to empower people and promote meaningful change for them. When people feel heard and their needs are met, behaviours of concern can significantly reduce.

We employ a positive approach, which means we do not employ techniques of punishment or restrictions but instead look at positive behaviour support. This includes working on the person’s environment and their skill to decrease any mismatches between the two.

Specifically, it is our role to work in partnership with people, and their support networks, to understand and address underlying causes for behaviours.

We do this by looking at the whole picture, to really get to know the person, and all the people around them, their family, school, and other supports. We then piece together what might going on for them.

It might be that people want to have choice about what they wear, eat or do. Or it might be they would like to be extended and do more for themselves to participate in everyday life, for example, to dress themselves, make their own lunch or even to do the dishes.

Sometimes, people might need more stimulation or want to explore their sense of touch and to play with things that have different textures, like play-dough. Or they might want to have more access to their environment, to investigate things independently.

Once we know a person, we can then create a tailored support plan to guide their support networks. This will include an active support approach.

It is our aim to close the gap, between support being provided and a person’s needs, so people can participate in their life more fully.

What does active support mean?

Active support is about asking and listening to people, and then supporting them to do things for themselves, whereas traditionally support work has tended to revolve around a daily list of tasks that need to be done by a support worker, and at set times.

For example, with active support a support worker might ask, “Do you want to help with the breakfast dishes?” and, if the answer is yes, then the support worker will look for ways to make this possible. This might mean doing the job in a tub at the table, breaking the process down into steps starting with squeezing dishwashing liquid into the tub, and potentially hands might need to be guided through the washing process.

Although the task might take longer, the person has been empowered to participate in everyday life.

So, how can people access Anglicare’s team of behaviour support practitioners?

This service is provided through the NDIS, by referral. Anglicare does not have to be a person’s usual provider of support services. However, this is often useful once a support plan is created because Anglicare has a devoted practice leader to collaborate between our team and our support workers. This is a vital connection to make sure support plans are followed and continue to be developed over time.

With seven practitioners, the team at Anglicare is now the largest in the state and we are based in Launceston and Hobart.

The team collaborates weekly to share knowledge and identify when further research is needed, particularly for more complex issues. Each team member has a background in psychology.

For me, as team leader it has been a big achievement to have built such a dedicated and enthusiastic team. This area of service is relatively new in Australia, so I am particularly excited to be able to deliver this specialist support to Tasmanians.

You can learn more about Disability Services with Anglicare. To find out about the possibility of a referral to a behaviour support practitioner through your NDIS plan, call Anglicare on 1800 243 232.


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