The constraints of the pandemic have put a strain on everyone, but for some, the lack of social interaction could lead to isolation becoming entrenched. According to a report from the National Autistic Society, 9 in 10 autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown, with 85% saying their anxiety levels got worse. For many, the sudden withdrawal of support from social care, education and mental health services has added significantly to their difficulties. As we prepare to emerge from this third period of lockdown, we look at an example of how Ketso Connect has been used to help maintain support for adults on the autistic spectrum.
Lucy Sheppard Fidler is the Lead Trainer on a Building Better Opportunities project (BBO) at the Shropshire Autism Hub, run by the charity A4U and jointly funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund. #TNLComFundESF
She runs small group training courses which aim to increase confidence and support participants to move towards greater social engagement and employment. Here we see how Lucy used Ketso Connect to help overcome the limits of social distancing and isolation, so she could continue her work.
Thinking and sharing made easier with Ketso
With the lockdown restrictions put in place in March 2020, the usual activities of the BBO project were not possible. Lucy and her colleagues have seen first-hand the high levels of anxiety experienced by participants, many of whom live alone and rely on routine to get out of the house. Having this stripped away has left them feeling extremely isolated.
Providing regular, face to face support has been vital in allowing the project to help participants deal with emotional and practical issues before becoming overwhelmed by them. As part of her response to this challenge, Lucy used Ketso Connect to run a socially distanced meeting in an outdoor space for some of her students. With each participant having their own kit, the aim of the session was to explore how they had experienced lockdown, and to discuss what they want the ‘new normal’ to look like, both in terms of the Hub and more widely in life.
“It has an integral structure and set of rules students can learn and follow. Ketso is an active part of my teaching kit!”
The physical Ketso Connect kit, along with the Ketso process, helped to focus ideas and provoke discussion. The fact that ideas written on Ketso leaves can be easily changed or repositioned removes anxiety about making mistakes, making the kit particularly helpful for people on the autistic spectrum. The students really liked the fact that the work was visually engaging, and capturing it all in photographs gave them something to refer back to after the session. In addition to this, as Lucy explained, many of the students are intimidated by worksheets or large bits of text, so being able to present things in bite-sized ideas and follow a process is really useful for her as a trainer.
As Lucy says: “It has an integral structure and set of rules students can learn and follow – e.g. when problem solving they can use the different colour leaves to represent challenges, solutions, information etc. Ketso is an active part of my teaching kit!”
An inclusive way of working together
One student in the group was unable to attend the session due to people in his household shielding. He was however able to take part via video chat, with Lucy acting as scribe, capturing his ideas on Ketso leaves. Lucy reported, “Ketso worked brilliantly at enabling him to engage in the session as I was able to show him the kit and he could contribute.” This same student suggested it would be good to keep offering this alongside face-to-face meetings in future, as it would encourage participation from those who cannot access services due to anxiety or physical restrictions.
One of the issues that was highlighted in the session was a concern about maintaining some of the positives of lockdown on returning to ‘normal’. To address this, Lucy and her students planned to use Ketso to develop a new routine that includes self-care time.
We have been really impressed by the way Lucy used Ketso Connect in the BBO session, and encouraged by the positive feedback from her students. We believe there is real potential for this approach to help reduce social isolation during lockdown and beyond, and to address the possibility of a reluctance to engage and interact becoming a long-term consequence of the pandemic.