I first met James in 2014. He was 24 years old. Described as having a severe learning disability, autism, and behaviours that seriously challenged, he had spent many years in a long-stay hospital. Any attempt to move him to residential care had failed catastrophically.
I was introduced to James as part of a team who were tasked with designing a service that would finally make this move successful. My role on that team was to advise on positive behavioural support. However, that was only short-term and, having finally met James, I was determined to do whatever I could to transform this young man’s life. I successfully applied to be manager of James' new residential support service – and began an incredible journey alongside him.
My first step in this role was to recruit a team to support James and start a gentle transition from hospital to home. This transition was never going to be easy, but from early on, we started to see that every bit of positive contact improved the quality of James' life ever so slightly.
Through giving James choices and options, and supporting him proactively, we very quickly saw his most challenging behaviours extinguish. He became visibly more comfortable in the company of other familiar people, his communication significantly improved, and he began to sing, whoop, and smile.
At the same time as we were getting to know James, we were also working hard behind the scenes with many other partners to make sure that his new home would provide the best environment for him. We had to consider every possible detail as we knew it was probably his last chance at life outside hospital.
Finally, everything came together and James was able to make the move.
The transition was never going to be an easy one for James. There was a possibility that he would never accept his new home. The first few weeks proved to be just as difficult as we expected. Initially, he refused to move beyond a single room in the house – his place of safety.
There were many discussions around what to do in James' best interest during this time involving his family, advocates, social workers, our commissioners, and specialist health professionals. Slowly, through gentle encouragement and persuasion, staff supported him to adjust to his new surroundings. Gentle routines were re-introduced, and James finally began to settle in. He began to sing, whoop and walk with a swagger again.
Small step by small step, his progress has continued. He is now not only comfortable in his new home, but enjoying regular trips out. These might be simple things that many of us naturally take for granted, but they seemed impossible for James just a year ago.
James' support team have walked alongside him every step of the way and have celebrated every one of his achievements. Here's a story from one them, Robert, that shows just how far James has come and what this means to his team:
"As we set off to drive, I asked James to point which way he wanted to go – he made a strong showing of pointing left so that's where we headed. We planned to stop at the garage I usually take James for an ice cream. As we neared the garage, he pointed at it and banged the window, so we pulled in and parked. My colleague Sarah headed into the garage and when I reassured James she was buying him an ice cream, he began swaying from side to side whooping and smiling from ear to ear – he looked amazing, so happy, it was so brilliant!
"We headed to a nearby green and pulled over to eat our ice creams. As James ate his, Sarah and I ate ours. Then, a car and a work van pulled up either side of us, and in both vehicles the people inside were eating ice creams too. It was such a lovely few moments, where three vehicles and every person in them were all equals, gently taking in the sunshine and enjoying our ice creams as one.
"James' smile was so wide. He ate his ice cream and we set back off on our drive. James again pointed which direction he wanted to go, and away we went – we saw cows, goats, sheep, and dogs chasing tennis balls.
"It was such a lovely morning. James was awesome, he looked so content and for those few moments – eating his ice cream in the car with the other passengers and drivers – he wasn't a guy with autism, he was a regular Joe, doing everyday things in his community, just like everybody else."
Note: We've changed some names to protect people's identities.
Could you change lives?
At Brandon, we're committed to the Driving Up Quality (DUQ) code. We work to recognise our achievements and find new ways to continuously improve what we do. Find out more in the latest Brandon Trust DUQ self-assessment report.