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Disability Support Workers face time pressure challenges due to the number of tasks needed to be completed. An active support approach works to overcome this shared challenge by changing the way in which disabled people engage with everyday tasks in a more exciting way.
Active support is a naturally occurring, person-centred way of supporting a person to develop new skills and improve quality of life through engagement. It’s not a hotel service where staff do everything for the people there. Active support changes the perspective of support from doing something for a person to working with the person, enabling disabled people to live more ordinary lives.
Some disabled people may need little support to work a full-time job, whilst others need a lot of support to carry out the simplest of tasks.. It’s about finding the right amount of support for a person based on their individual needs, and it’s a skill required by those who work as a Disability Support Worker.
One of our Maybo trainers, who was previously a Disability Support Worker, told us about a man with an intellectual disability that they used to support. The man, in his 30’s, wanted to develop better personal care and oral hygiene. By employing the principles of active support, they were able to work together with our trainer to build skills and reinforce positive outcomes.
Starting with the first principle, every moment has potential, we look for opportunities for meaningful engagement. For the task of brushing his teeth, instead of brushing the man’s teeth for him, the trainer used active support to make the task engaging and an opportunity to develop new skills around personal care.
For the second principle, little and often, they broke down the task of brushing teeth into smaller, more manageable steps. Starting from picking up the toothbrush, getting toothpaste, wetting the toothbrush, moving the toothbrush around in the mouth and rinsing. They found that over time he was able to do these steps on his own for longer.
The third principle, graded assistance, provides just the right amount of support for the person: not too much, but not too little. For the person being supported in this example, whilst he did not need assistance in the process of putting the toothbrush in his mouth and moving it around, he needed some support in knowing how much toothpaste to use. The trainer learned the hard way when they nearly used a whole tube of toothpaste in one go. The following times, they used verbal prompts to let him know that there was enough toothpaste.
With the final principle, maximising choice and control, they worked with the person to pick out what toothpaste he wanted to try, what type of toothbrush to use, and how much he wanted their involvement in the task. It’s about allowing the person to be heard and express preferences.
It took weeks to develop the right routine for him and they were met with errors along the way. It took a lot of time and patience to get to a point where the man could get up, brush his teeth on his own, know how much toothpaste to use and rinse off his toothbrush. Active support is about encouraging as much independence as possible. When working with a person with a disability, it is crucial to identify what their interests and goals are. Active support aims to engage people in activities that matter to them. Remember: it is what the person wants to do.
Maybo’s Positive Behaviour Support programme, aligned with NDIS Practice Standards and Enabling Good Lives principles, aims to get learners thinking about how they can implement active support in their workplace.