Stepping Back – Part 2

Podcast Episode 38. Friendships and purpose are two of the most important things to have in our lives. For young people with additional needs finding these can sometimes be a challenge. In part 2 of Stepping back Milla Johnson, an Occupational Therapist, and Lisa Campbell, a Speech and Language Therapist, discuss how to manage friendships and access work opportunities.

When it comes to friendships Lisa and Milla recommend having conversations to help young people understand that friendship is a two-way street and teaching them how to identify the qualities of a good friendship.  They say that as a parent, you’re also their role model and so need to be demonstrating how friendships work.

They also suggest that one way to develop social skills needed for friendships is to help our children get involved in social-focused activities within the community. This can open the door of opportunity for them to make friends in a secure and safe environment with other young people. Another option is to use a buddy system where you link them with a young person who helps them develop their social skills.  Joining local sporting clubs can also provide an opportunity to interact with others. However, Lisa and Milla also note that not all young people will want to go out of their way to sign themselves up for activities like this, so it is often parents who will need to make the initial connections, then step away once these are established.

Another key part of friendships is the ability to engage in conversations. For some young people, conversation starters can be difficult and Lisa and Milla talk about simple strategies to develop conversations skills, even playing board games after having friends around for dinner can be used to help reduce the pressure of social situations. They also touch on the issue of managing social media and talk about how to use real-life examples to educate young people how to manage their social media presence.

Lisa and Milla also talked about some of the challenges around finding a job. They suggest starting with an honest conversation about realistic employment options. However, this is not about placing limit’s but rather looking at ways to link to each individual’s strengths and interests to job roles.

There are also some practical tactics to help make finding a job easier including maximizing work experience and volunteer opportunities. Milla and Lisa argue that when an employer sees a CV, they can make assumptions but once an individual has actually worked in the organization then they can be judged on performance which is way more powerful.

Milla and Lisa also advise parents that there will come a time when they will need to let their young person take the lead in the search for work because ultimately it is they who need to convince the employer they are capable of doing the job. By not stepping back parents can be actually be hindering their young person’s chances of finding employment.

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Podcast Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 38 of the Journey Skills podcast. This is part two of Stepping Back. In part one, Milla Johnson, an Occupational Therapist and Lisa Campbell, a Speech and Language Therapist talked about ways in which we can help our children develop the daily living skills they will need if they are to live independently. And it wasn’t lots of ways about Stepping Back and letting them learn from their mistakes, not stepping in every time we feel it uncomfortable for them. In the second part of my conversation with Milla and Lisa, the focus is on relationships and work.

Any discussion around relationships and friendships is always an interesting one for me. If I had to say the one area I worry about most, it’s my daughter’s lack of close friendships. I know she has friends, although as a non-sharer, she doesn’t talk about them but like many parents, we’ve tried to help her keep the friends she had when she was younger but as many of you will also understand what I mean when I say those friendships have all but disappeared as she’s gotten older and have friends of moved on in terms of the level of independence that they are able to have.

Lisa and Milla spent some time talking about how we can help our children develop social skills by getting involved with community-based organizations like Brownie Scouts and Sporting Clubs. Now I confess we didn’t do this and in retrospect it was partly through the fear of how she might be treated. I now realized this was a mistake and that we should have spent more time getting her involved in groups like this. Another idea they discussed is about finding a mentor or a buddy for your child to help them develop social skills and also it helps with social inclusion.

The key here to the discussion around friendships seems to be that as parents, we need to be opening the doors to many of these activities. We also talked about socializing and helping out children talk to other people. So, we discussed having friends around in a sense of modeling friendship. For our daughter when we have friends around, she does exactly what Lisa and Milla talked about – she leaves the table as soon as she possibly can.

An obvious suggestion of games to idealist structured conversation actually works because recently when we visited friends they did exactly this. They board out the game after dinner, we all played it, we all laughed and our daughter loved it and she didn’t even win. Milla and Lisa provided me with some examples of these types of games so I put a few of those in the show notes.

Finally, we talked about employment and Lisa and Milla offered some ideas for getting connections with employers and how to talk to potential employers. But the key better advice here, at least for me, was making sure that my daughter is more involved in this process. Because while I was the one trying to find her a job, that’s not actually encouraging her independence nor showing prospective employers that she is keen and capable.
DEBRA: Can we talk a little about friendships? Often as parents we worry about friends that might take advantage of our young people, how do we teach them to have good friendships but also have to understand when maybe someone’s taking advantage of them?

LISA: It’s a really interesting question. I think it really makes a start off with a discussion. I think we need to be open to talking about friendships and talking about what the qualities are of having a friend. And a friend is really someone that you’re able to have a conversation with, someone that is nice, that’s, you know, our friendship is a two-way thing. We’ve got to give and receive and turn take and share and all of that kind of things. So, it starts off really having a conversation with your son or daughter about friendships and the positives of having friendships, the benefits of having a friend and the benefit of having elements of social engagement. Not every young person does want a big group of friends, some people might only need one or two friends in their lives but it is about talking about friendships and demonstrating friendships yourselves as parents and having friends I suppose, your friends over so that they can actually see how friendships work so that they get to meet who your friends are so because we are role models for these young people as well.
Our lovely thing if parents can do is help their sons or daughters engage in activities within the community because if you’ve got a language impairment, social communication difficulties, it is very hard to actually engage in a Brownies group or a Girl Guides group or the scouts or anything like that. So, you as a parent, it’s really beneficial if you can kind of open that door of opportunity for them. If you could sign them up to activities like that, I think that works really well because when you, say, use Brownies for an example when you’re there, you are in a secure and safe environment as well without the young people but there’s an element as a college aged student or young person in which they’d be a role for you to be a leader or to set up an activity or to be a guide and I think it’s opportunities like that in a safe environment that actually really instill confidence in our young people as well.

MILLA: It’s also worth thinking about in terms of family friends and that potentially somebody who could draw alongside and buddy up with your son or daughter to be able to go to the cinema together, to be able to go bowling with another group of people because as soon as you have that element of bringing someone from the sort of mainstream environment in who’s responsible for being the buddy, there’s much greater social inclusion of your son or daughter in the activity because that mentor, that buddy is friends with the rest of the group and so therefore you’ve come with that guy. And I think there’s also there are numerous schools that do Duke and Edinburgh’s Awards. You have young people who is possibly Duke and Edinburgh’s Awards and things. Part of it can be mentor and buddying drawing alongside. So, there are lots of different schemes of getting to know different people. So, we’ve got one young man at the moment who has someone who comes once a week and they sometimes they go bowling, sometimes they go to the movies and they just plan on a week by week basis and then the summer they go football together.

LISA: And that’s what I was gonna say, sport is a fantastic activity to get our young people involved. The students that we work with are usually very practical students as well. They learn by seeing and by doing and I think playing sports for me has always been an incredibly inclusive activity where there are role models there, you’re working on team work, you’re working on interaction. It’s kind of gonna drive in you because it’s that sense of achievement and that element of wanting to win. And I think that’s a good thing for our young people to be able to challenge themselves and also to be able to do with losing because sometimes we do protect our young people to not ever experience that feeling of not winning or coming in second best but actually that is part of life. That’s why I think sport can be a fantastic environment for helping our students engage and develop friendships in that as well but our young people do find it difficult to sign up to the local football club or to sign up to the netball team or the hockey team or join the swimming team or even just join the gym. So, it does need a parent, a buddy or a mentor to actually open those doors or those avenues for them because I think what we’ll find is once our young people have their foot in the door, things seems to happen really successfully for them and they’ll enjoy it. And although they’re nervous for that initial Brownies Group or that initial sports match, once they’ve done it and they’ve realized how much they can get out of it and that feeling of just the excitement I suppose that they’ve actually done it and they formulated some friendships is a wonderful thing for them.

I suppose one thing that the students that we work have difficulty with this initiating and maintaining conversations. And I think those conversation starters can be really difficult. It’s about having the courage to express their view and opinion because a lot of the students we work with are worried about saying the wrong thing or saying something that’s gonna upset someone else or even when it comes down to humor, they might necessarily understand the jokes so they’ll just laugh and they risk laughing at the part of the joke that say wasn’t the punch line. So, I think as families, it can help to do conversation starters even around the dinner table; you can buy games and activities where it’s got dinner conversation topics. It’s just conversation starters where we can just teach these young people how to initiate a conversation, what topics that they can talk about. It’s a nice idea to be able to sit around and watch the news, to be able to talk about the world around them so that they know what’s going on and I think it’s important that an adult is with them to then explain some of the news stories because students can get worried or concerned about what they see and they might think that it’s a lot closer to home than it actually is. So, we do need to have conversation around these news events. I think it’s important to expose the students to what is going on in the world around them but actually in a way in which they understand that as well. So, I think discussion surrounding that is really important.

Other things to do I think we’ve touched earlier is watch movies together, talk about them but documentaries are such a great thing to talk about as well because their real life and a lot of documentaries are things the students can relate to and that they understand. And I think, it’s actually quite an educational thing to watch together as a family and then you can you can pause it and talk about it and then link it to experiences that you of all had. I think that can be really nice as well. Or watching thought-provoking movies as well that are based on true stories because I think that actually helps if it’s real life, it’s true they seem to be able to hold on to them a bit more and understand a bit more because they can relate it to something else as well.

MILLA: Not I think just as a family, it’s also we’re thinking at meal times. If you’ve got friends, relatives around for meal, the actual sitting around the table having conversation could be the really really tricky bit and how could you reduce that pressure. Sometimes you wonder why, you know, your son or daughter wants to get up and leave the table as soon as they finish eating. It’s because that bit so difficult but could you bring in a board game and actually play a board game. So, it takes away from the intensity of the conversation and if it’s a game that they know well and they’re familiar with, you end up with a social band to them around the table but the focus is on the game not on someone asking the questions when “I’m gonna be really worried that I can’t answer”. So, it’s about trying to structure that time so that it isn’t necessarily always as intense to your sitting-chatting if generally not a problem but actually when the language element is what’s the challenge for you, that sitting around having conversations with people can be really difficult.

So sometimes having an activity or something to do. So often like going for a family walk together, going to walk after lunch, actually, you walking alongside, the intensity of the conversation isn’t someone sitting opposite you staring at you asking you questions. It’s all about what you’re seeing and what you’re doing as you’re walking so therefore they get the socializing element and they’re therefore more likely to join in for a longer period of time because it’s not as intense and demanding on the communication.

LISA: And I think board games like you said they’re brilliant and I think we’ve forgotten how amazing board games are. I think they’ve come making a bit of a comeback now but again if your sons and daughters are having friends over, although they might not go to that board games straight away, you’d be surprised, if you set up the board game, or a sibling sets up a board game for them, once it’s been started, they will love playing it. They really will because it’s like you said, Milla, it’s the band that you have, it’s the jokes and actually your language doesn’t have to be the barrier to playing a board game.

MILLA: And I think, in terms of friendships or relationships, there’s always the big area of social media and that is going to be a challenge for families. And again, it is that there are risks in it. There are risks in it when your child’s got language impairment or not when they’re teenagers. But I think it’s about having open and honest discussions and actually being able to speak and chat through with your sons or daughters to what’s an appropriate thing to post and having that open relationship that they feel safe to be able to come to you and say, “We did this today. I’ve got a photo of this. Do you think it’s okay if I place it?” Or to be able to check things after in the first place rather than the sort of being too terrified that they’re going to end up in trouble because of social media.

LISA: And I think that’s probably really good advice is don’t shy away from conversations. Actually have them, bring the conversation up yourself as parents or family members. I just think young people that we work with, they need these things explicitly taught. They need things explained and you can’t just tell them something once. You need to reiterate it and go over it again. So, I think we all need to be brave and have those conversations and particularly these days around social media, we need to be aware of what’s out there, we need to be aware about apps or anything like that, that the children or the students are using and we need to be able to talk about it and understand them. So, try not to shy away from learning about apps and that are happening.

MILLA: And also, we all have got examples on social media that we’ve got a people who’ve posted something that probably they shouldn’t have done or it was a bit of a random thing, that was a silly thing to say, and actually it’s about showing them, having that discussion about why isn’t that an appropriate thing for them to have shown, why maybe shouldn’t they have posted that on social media and actually have those conversations because we’ve all got examples. Use examples that you’ve got so that it’s more concrete. And sometimes the conversations can be too abstract or sometimes you needing a specific example.

LISA: You need to be direct, you need to be explicit in what you’re doing. Don’t try trip around any issue. Let’s just talk about it.

DEBRA: Have you got these thoughts on employment because obviously that’s a big part of being independent, so any tips for parents preparing for employment?

LISA: I think one of the key things to do is just to be realistic about job prospects and career opportunities for these young people and you need to have a discussion with them. What is it that they want, what did they love doing because ideally even for myself I’m sure for Milla, we’re in jobs that we absolutely love and were passionate about it and we wanna support young people. We’re fortunate that we found jobs that we love and we know the importance of supporting young people find jobs that they love as well because if we do have to spend a lot of time at work, and you need to be enjoying those hours. So it’s about being realistic about job prospects for these young people, finding an area, a niche for them that they gonna love and be passionate about and enjoy and want to do for a period of time.

MILLA: And I think a really good way is actually finding – if you find something that you think they like, it’s just giving them some work experience, volunteer work because often the volunteer work, once they see someone’s dedicated and committed, they’re happy to take you on as a volunteer but once they’ve seen you, got to know you, they then prepared to employ you because actually they’ve seen that you’re really a hard worker, they’ve seen that you’re always on time, they’ve seen you that you’re reliable. There are different ways into it. Often when you just send a CV in, someone will look at it and go need to do ground can’t meet that but actually when they actually meet the individual and get to know the nature and character of your son or daughter, is way more powerful than anything that we can write on a piece of paper. And it’s about thinking laterally, you know, we’ve got various students who are doing a floristry course and then some of them who are never going to get to the point of being able to do fancy flower arrangements in the florist, however there are plenty of flower warehouses where they might be happy counting up the sleeves of twelve roses and bundle them together for wholesale or putting together someone in the back of the shop putting together the flower orders for waiting. So, there are different ways of doing it.

And also, I think it’s important for you to be open and honest up front with potential employers as to what our sons or daughters difficulties are and actually how easy some tips are to help them to enable it to be successful because I think if you hide, or try and hide the problems, they’ll find them and then they’re quite negative towards it. Was if they know in the first instance, my son or daughter has difficulty being flexible and therefore swapping what they’re doing every five minutes is going to end up with them storming out. That’s not them being badly behaved, it’s just they’re not coping with the changes. So actually, give them a role, teach them routine and once they’re learned the routine, they’ll be fantastic at it. It’s about saying, “Once my son or daughter learn something, they’re great at it. It might take them a week or two to learn it” so that they’re given a week or two opportunity to learn it rather than we’re on the first day, they didn’t get it therefore they’re not good for the job.

So I think it’s just being really honest in having those conversations and if you’re fortunate enough to have an occupational therapist or a speech language therapist involved, get us to write a short prosy of what to it that they need, that can help them because sometimes, something coming from a professional helps clearly as mom and dads, as parents, you know what their needs are and sometimes from employers, if it comes from a therapist, they’re sometimes more accommodating and and willing to listen. Often therapists will be very happy to go in and speak with employers as to what they can do to help.

MILLA: And in general, we find that the focus especially you know certain employers is that they really do want to make it work and actually if they can start off on a really simple job and very soon progress through things. A lot of our students, they work really hard and they’re really committed to doing their jobs and therefore they do get the promotions but I also think there’s huge value in actually getting them to try make the contacts because often to an employer, if the parents made the contact, it’s like “Well, they’re clearly not capable of stuff because the parents have to phone to ask for an application form”. Or if there’s a job that’s advertised that they want, “Go ask them to look ground ” Doesn’t matter if you go with them to help them look ground but try and get them to be the front of going and having a look ground.

LISA: And the other thing is this – don’t underestimate the connections that you already have with workplaces and with people that you know. Your son or daughter is interested in working in a barber or is a working in a hair salon, it’s likely you’ve been going to the same headdresses since they were young. They know you very well so if that’s an opportunity to doing work experience, that’s a way and it could lead to something else. If you’ve always shopped at a specific supermarket, they’re gonna know you, so take advantage of the connections that you’ve already had the you maybe don’t even realize that you’ve got because that is actually how a lot of people get places in life, it’s by making the most of their connections and you should never underestimate the people that we know.

And I think for our young people to get somewhere, they need a little bit more explicit teaching or a little bit more support. It doesn’t ever mean that they can’t do anything so we just need to ensure that we are given as many opportunities as possible to be able to achieve what they want to achieve.

DEBRA: Thank you, Milla, for your time. Thank you, Lisa, for your time.

MILLA & LISA: It’s a pleasure. Thank you!

DEBRA: Key takeaways? Try and facilitate ways to develop friendships by standing behind, not necessarily beside them. Same for work, really. Somehow find a balance between support and getting out of the way. Stepping back is what it’s all about.

Resources
Games – Taboo, Articulate, Headbandz, Rory’s Story Dice, Heads Up, 5 Second Rule
Initiating and Maintaing Conversations – The Art of Conversation Cards, Story Dice
Generating and Elaborating Ideas – You have 1 minute to list as many things as you can think of in the category – Food, Music, Sports Teams etc.

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