As the school years near an end, many parents and families worry about the suitability of the next placement for their relative with autism. Whether the individual will be looking for education, vocational learning, employment or daytime activities, they will need somewhere to live if they are not going to live at home. The task can seem daunting to their families. Below you will find some suggestions of things to look out for as well as questions you can ask as you visit various possible placements. The answers to these questions and your observations might help you to make a decision.
You might be looking at residential accommodation, supported living accommodation or a college hall of residence. Whichever the case, a well-maintained environment is important. You might wish to also check how much an individual moving into the accommodation can personalise their living space.
Some observations you can make are:
- Does the home look clean?
- Does the home look in good repair?
- Is the home well decorated?
- Is there a smell of urine or stale food? (Be fair, accidents do happen, but there is a difference between a ‘stale’ and a ‘fresh’ smell)
- Is there enough space for the individual to remove themselves from others either indoors or outdoors?
- Is the environment safe?
Some questions you can ask are:
- Are the individuals allowed to bring their own special items?
- Can the individuals personalise their living accommodation?
- Can the individuals ask for the accommodation to be redecorated?
- Is there a maintenance programme?
Some facilities might be found on site and others might be accessible in the locality.
Some observations you can make are:
What local community facilities are there?
- How easy is it to access local community facilities?
- Is there support to help individuals access facilities in the locality?
- Are there IT facilities on site?
- Are there restrictions to using the internet?
- Can the individual pursue a special interest?
Whether the individual will be living in a residential establishment with full staff support, in supported living with appropriate hourly support,or in college accommodation with pastoral support the qualifications, experience and understanding of staff are crucial. Below are questions you can ask the provider of staff.
- Are the staff CRB checked?
- Do the staff receive training which includes autism training?
- How in-depth is the autism training?
- Do the staff have a professional development plan?
- How do staff gain qualifications?
You may wish to speak to some staff, the Registered Manager or the Manager in Charge. In this way you can assess if the staff are friendly, helpful and are prepared to listen to your concerns and whether the manager is available to discuss issues if necessary.
Your relative might be sharing their living accommodation with others in a shared house, flat or student digs. If possible, try to meet some of the other flatmates or students and either observe or ask questions to find out the following:
- Do they seem happy?
- Do they appear well occupied?
- Are they gaining new skills?
- Are they encouraged to be as independent as possible?
- Do they have a say in the decisions which govern their lives?
- Are they encouraged to make decisions?
- How is their anxiety managed?
- Who do they go to if they feel anxious?
- Are routines in place to help them manage their day?
- Are specialist communication tools in place to help them communicate as effectively as possible?
Keeping well and healthy will help any individual in their physical, emotional and mental well-being. Check for the following:
- Are there set menus? If so, have a look at the menus.
- Are individual dietary needs catered for?
- How much influence does the individual have in what they eat?
- What happens if the individual has a very limited non-nutritious diet?
- Can the individuals prepare their own meals?
- Can the individuals access support in how to budget for their food?
Finances and Possessions
Some people are very good at budgeting and managing their finances. Others need substantial support. Try to find out the answers to the following questions:
- Will the individual have their own bank account?
- Is there support available to help the individual manage their own finances?
- Where does funding come from to cover the purchase of clothes, outings, personal possessions?
- Do the individuals have to purchase their own televisions, computers etc? If so, is there a restriction on the use of these electronic items. (This question is particularly pertinent for under-18s who might wish to access inappropriate programmes or websites)
You may wish to consider the following general matters.
- Introduction and transition into their new home.
- House rules.
- Consequences of breaking house rules.
- Incompatibility with flatmates or staff.
- Moving on to more long-term placements.
The above questions are a guide only and might prompt more questions. Every individual has their own needs. It is very natural to want to ensure that your relative or ward is happy, healthy and safe in their new home. If you have any questions or concerns do not keep them to yourself. Ask as many questions as you need during your visit and, if you think of questions afterwards, telephone or email the placement. If you do not get the answers you need, then ask to speak to the supervisor or manager.