Accommodation: Supported Living for Autistic People / People with Autism

Norfolk County Council Adult Social Care are developing a document that tells organisations developing new supported living homes, what they should look like.  To view this document please go to: 

The Norfolk Autism Partnership Board through autism awareness week, would like to start a conversation and hear from autistic people / people with autism, those that care for them and providers to tell us what you think supported living should look like.  To get involved email and tell us what you think. 

The following is one carer’s perspective of how the design of the building could help support the particular needs of vulnerable people with autism/autistic people.

A carer’s prospective – 15.03.21

The role of the at-home carer can feel very precarious, knowing that the person you care for would be left alone and isolated, if you were suddenly unable to provide support, perhaps with them even having to cope with bereavement at the same time. There may be no other family member or familiar local support on hand, no continuity of understanding of the person’s needs.

I strongly support the idea of building suitable accommodation, accessible for adults with autism who would otherwise be very vulnerable should their family/carers not be able to support them for any reason.

Any house or scheme built with these issues in mind would not (in my view) need to be solely for folk on the autistic spectrum, as they could benefit from associating with other folks with more flexible social skills, and others benefit from the skills they themselves could offer, but, within the setting, there would need to be features taking account of the particular anxieties and other difficulties of such potential tenants.

A tranquil setting both in location and achieved through design of the building are the ‘foundations’ on which to create such accommodation, bringing a sense of peace and security, space to explore and progress towards gaining more confidence in wider surroundings. The building should have spaces for different activities, clearly defined, such as for art work or games,  providing layers of opportunity for individual and shared pursuits.  As a person enters a shared room, the entrance should provide a clear view of who and what is in the room, to enable them to quickly decide should they wish to engage or not. 

I think a garden is essential. A quiet and homely space outside, without having to mingle with anyone you do not know (unless you chose to).

Enjoyment of nature, actively, such as through gardening, or passively, allows for choice and health benefits, physical and psychological.

Self-expression should also be found through the freedom to choose the décor and furnishing of one’s own bedroom along with which should always be en-suite facilities – not an optional extra anywhere where people with autism might be accommodated. (The same for all tenants, in my view, to really feel they have their ‘own place’.)

Uncontrollable noise can be particularly disturbing for people with autism.  There will be times when they might need to shut out external noises completely – so sound proofing would be essential in any bedroom they might occupy. Equally, the person themselves might need a safe and private space where they can voice their own needs aloud without the embarrassment of disturbing other tenants.

(Locks on doors must have features whereby privacy is balanced with a safety mechanism to enable the door to be opened from outside in an emergency.)

Sensory sensitivities in general need to be taken into account. Lighting for instance must be calming and adaptable (nothing fluorescent!!). Suitable colours and textures might also need investigation – especially in areas which are shared.

(I would like to know more about arrangements for storage and preparation of food, and for meals, and how flexible these might be.)

Although being located in a quiet area, the building/s should not be isolated so that access to the surrounding community or further afield is restricted. Opportunities to develop independence skills as far as possible are extremely important.

I don’t think it is always crucial for accommodation to be close to the area the individual autistic person is used to.  It may be important that this is not the case due to stress factors and possible dangers which may be particular to that environment. The important aspect is that positive relationships with family/carers and friends can be maintained through access to transport within manageable distances – an argument for placing house/schemes in different parts of the county –  and that internet access is on hand, in the person’s own room (with any necessary safeguards needing to be put in place), to enable outside contact whilst preserving the person’s precious independence and privacy.

My hope is that supported accommodation for vulnerable people with autism would help to make life, for them and their carers, take on more positive characteristics than perhaps exist already:  more varied experiences to exchange and share; a larger circle of acquaintances, the chance to make new friends and gain confidence; a more relaxed relationship based on adult distancing from parents (for example) – a desired progression for most people.

Making the move might be a tricky process for people who find adjustments especially difficult to make – and stress-making for theircarers as well!! But let’s work together and create a great project.

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