Living My Life

John: from institutional living to choice, control and independence.

We’re sharing stories on our blog of Yarrow people that we support. We’d like to introduce you to John, who has been with Yarrow for four years now.

John is a great example of how people with complex needs can, with the right support, exercise choice and control.

John has autism, is partially sighted, does not use speech, but can hear and understand very well. He spent 25 years of his life in long-term institutional care, from his late twenties. He moved into supported living accommodation when he was in his fifties, and came to live in a Yarrow house when he was 71 years old.

John seated at a table outdoors

A big change

Moving home was a big change for John, and this disruption to his routine meant that sometimes at first he acted in ways where he could have hurt himself or upset the people around him.  We think that this was because as we were getting to know him, and he was getting to know us, he would get frustrated at not being able to make his feelings or wishes clear.

Our first priority was to help John with his communication so that he could make his needs and wishes understood. We worked with the Behavioural Team on ways for John to show to us what he wanted to do and reduce his level of frustration. This has been very successful. Now if he wants a cup of tea, he gets his mug from the cupboard, or his jacket if he wants to go for a walk. And he is confident that the people supporting him will get the message.

Adapting our approach

Another thing we focused on in those early days was food. Perhaps due to his time in institutional care, and the ways meals were structured there, John eats very quickly. This meant he could choke, and was worryingly underweight. We worked closely with the Speech & Language team to create eating guidelines for John, such as using special cups and utensils, keeping to a soft diet and cutting food into smaller pieces. A member of staff also helps John with each meal. Now John is no longer underweight and is much more relaxed around food and mealtimes.

Getting to know John

As John’s health and communication improved, we began finding out what John likes to do and what makes him happy.

Keeping a regular routine is very important to John, as is understanding what is going to happen so that he knows what to expect – and what is expected of him. The simple step of telling John what he is going to do each day has really helped and he has been going out in the community without finding it challenging for more than two years now.

We work with John’s advocate to keep opening up new options and possibilities for him, to make sure he can take advantage of everything on offer. Keeping John active and mobile as he gets older is really important too, so we work closely with his GP, Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist. John leads a very busy life, both at home and out and about. He’s very active, loves walking in the park, goes to yoga and dance classes and is a welcome and valued customer in the local café. So valued in fact that when he was ill last year and unable to visit the café for a little while, a member of staff from the café came to visit to see how he was.

John is also involved in decisions about his routine and life at home. He takes part in our regular tenants’ meetings, where we plan future events and outings, and is able to communicate whether he thinks they are a good or bad choice.

He also joins us on our twice-yearly day trips to Brighton, which he enjoys a lot. Last year, John was able to take his first holiday, spending a weekend in Camber Sands with a friend. The trip was a great success, so John and his support staff are now planning a longer trip away, and also making sure that in future he can have regular weekend breaks. Before he came to Yarrow, a holiday would have been too challenging for John.

John with his 75th Birthday cake last summer

John recently celebrated his 75th birthday with a party at home. Many of his guests commented on how fit and well he looks. He has come a long way from institutional living and has had to overcome many challenges. He is now exercising the choice and control he did not have before. John is living his own life!

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