Autism charity supports families during lockdown.


Steve Dixon who works for the Sycamore Trust today writes in the Havering Daily.

With the UK now in it’s the fourth week of ‘lockdown’, it’s safe to say that many of us are getting used to a new way of working.  For some businesses, working from home is simple, whilst for others, it is more difficult and at the Sycamore Trust, they are constantly looking at how best to overcome the challenges that are being set by the new way of life.

As a charity that support families and individuals on the autistic spectrum, so much of what the Trust does involves that personal contact that their service users find so valuable, so this period is proving particularly awkward for those staff for whom face to face contact is part of everyday life.

That is certainly true of Debbie Gadbury, the Sycamore Trust Family Services co-ordinator, who is often found in Romford’s Liberty Centre, in the Autism Hub.  To call her the face of the Autism Hub is no exaggeration, and in fact, the Romford Business Improvement District selected Debbie as their February hero, which meant that her photo was all over social media for a month earlier this year.

However, for Debbie, February now seems like a lifetime ago as she and her Hub colleagues adapt to the current situation, which has presented its own difficulties.  The Covid -19 outbreak may have stopped a lot of people from going to work but it’s also made accessing vital support even more difficult for vulnerable families and as an example, Debbie is now having to help families complete PIP and DLA forms viaphone and email and as it’s an extremely lengthy form, that’s not an easy task.  Educational Health Care Plans also still need to be completed and Ann-Marie Lyons Mummery has been working alongside several Havering families in the Hub to complete their EHCP applications. Another member of Sycamore’s Hub staff, Alex Rowley, has ensured that Hub clients have remained connected throughout this period and has created a virtual group to ensure that contact has been maintained.

Another vital service out of the Hub is provided by Emma Marston. She provides support and guidance with other ongoing issues such as employment and housing and is often a consistent support where there are problems in the family home. Most people who require this outreach are already members of one of the groups based at the Autism Hut, but Emma has been known to come across a person who needs immediate low level support in order for them to later be able to attend our Autism Hub groups. She can often be found writing letters to support an individual’s PIP application so Debbie can focus on the application itself with the person.

Once it became clear that the Autism Hub would be forced to temporarily close, Debbie set about contacting all the service users by telephone and email to assure them that they would still be able to access the service, and it’s a vital resource for families who are finding the current situation more challenging than ever.

Children on the autistic spectrum, like most kids, react differently to any given situation and that’s certainly the case right now, made even more complicated by the unprecedented nature of the lockdown.  A number of children with Autism are quite happy with the current circumstances, while others are struggling with the new reality.

​“Some children are quite happy and getting on with their homework, because they are very content at home”, said Debbie.  “On the other hand, we’ve had parents are reporting that their children are refusing to do their schoolwork and are spending far too much time on their electronic devices.”

The change in routine has affected children with Autism and Debbie is concerned that some children could get very used to the present situation. She said “Several of the children we work with are quite reclusive and they are quite enjoying it. Their parents are worried that they have settled into their new routine and may struggle to go back to school, whenever the schools re-open.”

On top of that, there are issues with isolated behaviour, and much of their work at Sycamore Trust is focused as we aim to encourage children to improve their communication skills and mix more effectively with their peers. Debbie said, “One family we work with has a young person who is particularly concerned with germs, and right now it’s even harder to get that youngster outside.”

The Family Services role is funded by the City Bridge Trust and as this situation continues, Debbie’s role will become even more vital as there could be a number of families needing extra support  as they try to get their young people back into the old routine.  “I can foresee some difficulties this year,” said Debbie.  “Some of these young people will be very settled at home and will not want to back to school, but we will be there to support them if that should happen.”

Debbie from the Sycamore Trust.

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