Working with Learning Disabled People in North Devon.
When working with Learning Disabled People, including People with Autism, touch is a very important sense. When working with people, particularly people who do not use words to communicate, or who communicate through their behaviour, or seem to find it difficult to relate to others - it is important to explore other ways of reaching and connecting.
At other times it might be the need to explore ways that someone can have a rest from their anxiety, restlessness, or continuous activity – or from their distressed behaviour (often called challenging behaviour). Sometimes we need to explore whether someone’s sensory processing is impaired. This is usually the job of Occupational Therapists who specialize in Sensory Integration approaches – I often get involved to explore the touch element of this approach.
Sometimes it is about finding a different way of listening. Using clients’ movements and sounds – sometimes called Intensive Interaction - which I combine with touch where possible. At other times – its useful to simply wait and give someone space – I then follow my client’s lead – either with touch, sound or movement, or in fact stillness. It’s all about finding a way to connect if that’s possible.
The most important aspect of my work is to find a way to say without words: “whilst I don’t understand you, I’m trying to” – a way that respects someone simply for being themselves. Often many learning disabled people experience interventions that try to bring about change – this can be very necessary of course, but I wonder what it is like to constantly have such interactions? At other times, many people have lived lives where nurturing touch has been so lacking – yet touch is the first sense we develop.
I have worked with learning disabled people for many years, and now use different forms of touch therapy to try to make this connection. It doesn’t always work, yet there are many times it has brought about many surprising outcomes. In this respect people who I work with have been some of my most profound teachers of how to connect with another person through the medium of listening touch.
Where appropriate, I work in conjunction with clients’ existing professionals. This would always be discussed with the client – or in their presence – and their carers first.