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A change is the benefit of a rest
In the middle of the holiday season, the real benefits of a short break can be remarkable
Always when I speak to staff returning from holidays with service users, the feedback is positive. They remark on how challenging behaviours reduce, new skills and abilities are learned or surface for the first time and how much everyone relaxed and enjoyed themselves. Even the most challenging people (I'm not referring only to service users here!) seem to benefit from a week away from the norm.
I have been on several holidays with people I have supported over the years, with many tales of hilarity which I won't bore you with now. Chiefly because in today's heightened safety culture, I'd probably be struck off. However, one enduring thing that remains for me is a feeling that we were only a step away from utopia when given a week of freedom from routine and greater consistency of care. These two factors for me illustrate why holidays are such a positive experience for those we care for.
Sally and Sarah
This week, a colleague was recounting a recent trip to the coast with a very challenging and unhappy young woman. This lady has a particular problem with very extreme self-injury, is generally not good in company and finds change difficult. In the group of two service users and three carers, the staff initially were expecting to be busy and stretched all week. They anticipated a rough time with Sally, who was difficult from the moment they loaded the car.
However, once the accommodation had been introduced and the fact it had a garden with trees, birdsong and sea breezes, things started to improve. Sally was shown to the room she was to use for the week, assisted to find the bathroom and shown how to use the staff call button. For the first time in memory, Sally could choose when she wanted staff to help her. The carer explained that she would not come in unless Sally called her, that there was no “right time” to get up or go to bed, and that food was available all day.
Choosing how to fill their time was a group arrangement; if Sally wanted to do something, she would ask and this would happen. Equally, if Sarah, the other service user, wanted to do something, she would take her turn. There was little regimentation and little pressure. By the third day, calm had settled over the party and everyone truly relaxed into the holiday.
My colleague described the visits to funfairs, swimming in the sea, fish and chips and concerts with growing enthusiasm and delight. It had been an amazing holiday. But the enduring memory for everyone had been the way Sally and Sara had really grown in confidence and personality. What the break had given everyone was the chance to relax and just ‘be’.
Small changes, big changes
We all appreciate the time away from our ordinary routines to kick back and relax, even if we regiment our free time around a hobby or interest. The point is, it's not every day. For people with learning difficulties, opting out of routine is not always easy and they often lack the ability to make decisions for themselves, so are always at the centre of other people's plans. Of course, life is such that we cannot have total freedom all of the time; we have to live communally, consider others and adhere to various social norms.
Even if it's just for a week every year, let's try to offer a real break from routine, then we can see how even a short change in perspective can benefit the people we support.
Ginny Tyler – QCS Expert Learning Disabilities Contributor