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Coronavirus: Care manager speaks out about impact of coronavirus on people with autism

A dedicated care manager has spoken out about the impact of coronavirus on people with autism after its stripped away the routine and structure they rely upon.

Sharon Head, who runs three homes in Deal and Kingsdown, says her service users have experienced extreme anxiety following a ban on daily activities such as swimming, eating out and bowling.

Simon Avey and Karen Honess enjoy a drink at the home's new pub - Bon Secour's Arms
Simon Avey and Karen Honess enjoy a drink at the home's new pub - Bon Secour's Arms

But after a week of re-jigging - including new rotas after the loss of nine staff due to self isolation - she has shared some of the imaginative ways she and her team are getting by.

It includes the creation of a pub within the home's lounge and a new in-house Costa coffee machine for a client who would usually visit the coffee shop daily.

She said: "We were out and about in the community seven days a week.

"All the things our service users would normally do, including going to college, day centres, churches and social gatherings has all stopped.

"For those who are highly autistic, routine is so important to them and they've lost all of it.

Service users play bingo inside as they adapt to a new routine
Service users play bingo inside as they adapt to a new routine

"We've had to try to replicate what they would usually be doing but inside our homes.

"It's been challenging but also very humbling, especially seeing the staff work so hard, many of which have been putting our service users before their own families."

Ms Head is employed by Optima Care.

Teams provide support for 20 individuals with learning disabilities and sensory and behavioural needs across three homes - Seahaven, Kingsdown Lodge and Bon Secour.

Clive Elworthy, 56, who lives at Seahaven in Wellington Parade, is a Costa coffee fanatic who thrives on being able to visit the High Street chain daily to enjoy a latte.

Clive Elworthy who has autism loves Costa and would visit the coffee shop daily
Clive Elworthy who has autism loves Costa and would visit the coffee shop daily

He is known by staff, who last summer even created him his own name badge in recognition of his loyalty, and his bedroom is packed with Costa memorabilia.

Ms Head said: "When he couldn't go, he was getting agitated and extremely frustrated.

"Initially we were taking him to the garage to get a takeaway cup but when lockdown was enforced that stopped.

"We've been out to buy him a Costa machine and it's helped."

Simon Avey, 28, who lives at Bon Secour in Middle Deal Road, has a strict weekly routine which includes going to the pub for precisely two pints, a bag of crisps and a bag of peanuts, every Tuesday.

Service users enjoy the sunshine and scenery in Kingsdown during their one hour of daily exercise
Service users enjoy the sunshine and scenery in Kingsdown during their one hour of daily exercise

"It's been his routine for years," Ms Head said.

"So we've had to bring the pub to him with the opening of Bon Secour's Arms.

"Simon chose the name and helped create the sign for the door."

Carers also used roleplay to make it feel as genuine as possible.

Anthony Saw's 12-week sponsored swimming challenge has been stopped four weeks in by the closure of all leisure centres.

Anthony Saw, pictured with his main carer Richard Parsons, has had to stop his 12-week sponsored swim challenge
Anthony Saw, pictured with his main carer Richard Parsons, has had to stop his 12-week sponsored swim challenge

Having raised £500 for Diabetes UK, Ms Head said he was 'devastated' that he couldn't continue.

She said: "We've been giving him lots of praise and presented him with a certificate."

Ms Head has also faced the difficulty of trying to explain why the changes have occurred.

She said: "We discovered an easy read guide which is in picture form and broken down.

"We tried to explain it in basic terms; that it's a bad flu and people have to stay at home."

Care manager Sharon Head gives a service user a manicure while in 'lockdown'
Care manager Sharon Head gives a service user a manicure while in 'lockdown'

She said all users are still getting their one hour of exercise and enjoying new activities such as boules, bingo and recycling activities.

Ms Head: "There will be some positives to come from this.

"They are learning more home skills and we're still having fun.

"We're especially lucky to live where we do, by the seaside."

Read more: All the latest news from Deal


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