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App to help people with autism deal with anxiety

Published by Steve Ford, VIVA Project Officer

Given my working pattern, and being a bit of a politics "nerd", I was watching Prime Minister's Questions a couple of weeks ago and was interested to hear a Member of Parliament raising the subject of an App designed to help people with autism recognise and manage their anxiety.

I jotted down the name of the App and, with a little bit of net "surfing", have managed to track down Autistica's "Molehill Mountain" app (see link below)

https://www.autistica.org.uk/get-involved/molehill-mountain-app

As I only have access to an Android phone I'm not yet able to access it but I have received a lovely e mail from the team at Autistica to let me know that the Android version of the App will be available in a few weeks' time and that I will be receiving the first of their anxiety e mail series just as soon as they know the android launch date. I'll be sure to post another blog as soon as I have more to report but, for any of you out there who knows someone with autism or is on the spectrum themselves, it's another useful piece of information to have about the help out there.

 

 

Viva Extending

During the last couple of months, we have been promoting our VIVA project, being very excited and pleased that we have had our contract extended until 2019. This means we can continue to offer support to individuals with disabilities to access volunteering activities.

I have been working on my own case load at long last and am really enjoying getting out of the office and meeting people who have been referred. I get to know what their struggles are, what they enjoy doing, their passions and aspirations, and importantly for me, what makes them laugh.

People with disabilities can often face a lot of barriers to participation in volunteering. We encounter people from charities who feel that their volunteering opportunity could not be filled by a disabled person or that accommodating a disabled volunteer would be too difficult, or a drain on resources for the support that would be required. To ensure a positive experience for both the organisation and the disabled volunteer, we work closely with all parties in identifying specific barriers and developing strategies to address them. During the discussion we may consider simple adjustments which may be needed, e.g. transport arrangements or specialist equipment, and flexible working arrangements. Often it is just a small thing that can make all the difference, along with having a clear role rather than feeling like a ‘spare part.’

Another barrier can be a person’s own perception; that they believe a role may be too challenging, and they don’t want to be a hindrance or offered a role out of charity. Health conditions affecting their reliability is another common concern.

I met a lovely gentleman not long ago who is recovering from a stroke; he struggles to walk, and has aphasia, experiencing difficulties with talking, reading, telling the time and remembering things. He was an active person before his stroke and is very keen to volunteer and ‘start getting his life back’. He has lost his confidence and isn’t sure what he could do or offer.

It took a short while to encourage and help him identify positive things he can bring to a voluntary role. He has a passion for talking to the elderly – and loves learning about their life and local history. He is also interested in sports, having previously been part of a football team and involved in martial arts.

I have, hopefully, reassured him that he has lots to offer and in a couple of weeks’ time we are meeting with an organisation who provide gentle chair exercises for older people and a social group. The initial conversation with the manager was very positive; talking about how he can get involved with supporting the class and offering companionship and expressing a desire to accommodate him and help reduce any barriers to enable him to volunteer.

My hope is that over the next couple of months, he’ll be able to meet new people and fill his time constructively while helping others. Perhaps it’ll be the first step in a long term involvement in volunteering, perhaps it’ll be a way of regaining confidence and ‘getting his life back.’ It’s impossible to tell up front what difference volunteering might make to someone’s life but the Viva project exists because we think everyone should have a fair chance at finding out what volunteering could do for them.

Assistive Technology for people with disabilities

It’s hard to accept that I have a disability. According to Wiki  ‘A Disability is an impairment that may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some combination of these” it also states  that “it substantially affects a person's life activities and may be present from birth or occur during a person's lifetime.‘

I don’t know how it happened, my consultant just said it’s wear and tear; my family and friends have other ideas, which seem to be related to certain activities I have participated in over the years that have involved motorcycle stunts, figure and speed skating, street gymnastics, fishing and kayaking.

I have a herniated disc and 2 prolapsed discs in my neck, these are pinching my nerves, which means I am in constant pain, this includes pins and needles in my fingers, a stabbing pain in my back and down my arms, a weakness in my hands, aching across my neck and shoulders, and sometimes a burning sensation over my total back area.  My disability has frustrated me and prevented me from doing the things I want to do, I forget that my grip isn’t very good and will drop things, and surprisingly (as I am known for having a fairly strong character) it has made me feel somewhat insecure and less confident about myself, and I find myself being over emotional.

Both the pain and the medication to relief the pain have drastically affected my work and productivity; I struggle to concentrate and suffer with fatigue and have been uncomfortable at my desk for some time. I do, like anyone with a disability, chronic pain or illness, know that I have good days and bad days.  However, I am proud of the fact that, although I do take time off when the pain is intense and unmanageable, I come into work four days a week, and work to the best of my ability and have achieved quite a lot during that time.

This past week I have been trying to get used to my voice recognition software for using my telephone and computer, it’s supposed to enable me to type and do commands on my laptop and allow me to carry out my job a little easier. I can use its hands free headset to make and receive calls, however, getting to grips the voice recognition software is something to be desired, maybe it’s my slight Cornish accent and the fact that I’m very self-conscious about talking into a microphone in an office with other colleagues, it doesn’t come naturally and at the moment I think it recognises only 30% of what I say! Practice and perseverance hopefully will pay off, it will make a huge difference not having to struggle to type my reports.

I have recently been awarded a grant from Access to Work; this is a publicly funded employment support programme that aims to help more disabled people start or stay in work. It can provide practical and financial support for people who have a disability or long-term physical mental health condition. Support can be provided where someone needs help or adaption beyond reasonable adjustment. An access to work grants can pay for practical support to help you stay in work or even support you if you are self-employed.

The process to get an award was relatively easy; After completing a short application form describing my disability and how it affects me I was contacted to arrange an appointment with an assessor. During my assessment I was asked a lot of questions about my symptoms, my day-to-day activities and my difficulties at work, it was difficult for me to think about, as I’d coped and developed techniques to enable me to do my job with minimum disruption. Then I was shown a catalogue showing various equipment and items that could help me, to be honest it was a bit overwhelming, there were so many items I didn’t know existed or that I needed until it was explained to me how they worked. The assessor then completed her form making recommendations of the items she believed I needed. I was also measured to within inch of my life! From the floor to my knee and across my hips, from my elbow to my seat and from my shoulder to my fingertips, and from the tip of my nose to the screen, this was to ensure I had the correct posture and optimal position at my workstation and that a new chair I needed would be suitable and fitted specifically for me.

I consider myself quite lucky; not only do I have some equipment to assist me, I have colleagues who are very understanding, helpful and supportive. They are not judgemental if I arrive a bit late into work because it has been difficult for me in the morning,  instead I am offered a cup of tea and help with my bag, all with a considerate concern for my welfare. I am not pressured by my line manager, we have good line of communication and I keep them informed about my condition. I can carry on working in the job I enjoy, and cope with my disability one day at a time.

A great TV programme giving a personal insight into Aspergers

On Tuesday night I watched a brilliant documentary, on BBC2, featuring Chris Packham and his personal musings on Aspergers; how it affects him; and some of the controversial treatments for autism that are used. Touching, informative and honest - I thoroughly recommend this programme to anyone with an interest in autism and Aspergers. It's available on the i Player for 30 days from the date of original broadcast and the link is below.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09b1zbb/chris-packham-aspergers-and-me?suggid=b09b1zbb

 

Please also bear in mind that the VIVA project, run by Volunteer Cornwall, is available to help people with a wide range of disabilities and impairments who wish to volunteer and that we have particular expertise assisting clients with autism and Aspergers.