Support Worker Delma has supported Katy*, a client with severe autism for ten years. Delma recently shared how she and her team, under the direction of Coordinator Fran Fehrman, deal with Katy’s challenging behaviours.

* client’s name changed to protect their privacy

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Delma said, “Katy exhibits a range of challenging behaviours from self-harm including biting herself to aggression towards support staff including hitting and hair pulling.  Sometimes there is very little warning but normally we can tell by changes to her body language, for example she will repeatedly move her arm towards her mouth with intent to bite herself or stamp her foot.

In order to work out the source of her frustration we ask questions but if the behaviour rapidly escalates, we attempt to distract her.  If this doesn’t work, the team is advised to adopt an assertive posture and tone and ask Katy to go to her room.  In the event that Katy starts throwing things or attempting to hit the support workers, we ask staff to lock the external exits and internal cupboards and go into the support room.  Usually, within 10 to 15 minutes in the absence of external stimulation, Katy calms herself and staff then return to the situation to help resolve her frustration.

During this time when Katy is in her room she will talk to herself in the mirror and this has a very calming effect on her.  Usually we can tell if the behaviour is from overstimulation for example if Katy has been out and about a lot and has not had enough time to process the external stimuli.   Other times, she is in pain which is usually caused by the side effects of her prescribed medication.

After an episode where she has been angry or violent towards me or one of the support workers, Katy will often want to hug us. She is very affectionate by nature and enjoys a good relationship with the women on her team.

We try to decrease anxiety in her life as much as possible by utilising what we call a ‘base routine’.  This gives a basic structure to the day for activities such as showering and eating but leaves enough flexibility to decide on activities depending on Katy’s mood or health issues.   Anxiety can arise over changes to the routine and are quite noticeable around shift changeover times. We try to give advance warning about changes and explain what is going to happen.

Communication within the team is crucial as it’s very important to chart what she has eaten, her outings and her bowel movements.  Knowing what has gone before can help support staff determine what triggers any frustration or challenging behaviours she may exhibit.

Katy has made great strides in the ten years she has been supported by CLA.  I have supported her during  this whole period and her confidence and independence have grown significantly.  Her aggressive episodes have decreased significantly and now, living independently, she loves to cook and is able to do her own laundry and some housework.  She also loves to attend sports group and other CLA activities.”

By Support Worker Delma

Photo of Support worker Delma who supports one of our Autism Customers Katy* (* in the interest of privacy, the subject's name has been changed)

Support worker Delma

Click to read Delma’s Profile