By Anne Laney, Practice Manager
Here we are, Spring of 2021. Trying to create a workable, satisfying, effective, sustainable and safe environment within which to continue to support the people we know and love in their communication, self-expression and social engagement. Now more than ever, emotional wellbeing, which we have always recognised as at the heart of our purpose and one of the key areas we are skilled at supporting, is at the forefront of our concerns. It is only relatively recently that support of emotional wellbeing has been recognised as vital for all of us, let alone those with profound and multiple learning disabilities, complex needs, or who are autistic. The fact that our own emotional wellbeing may well require attention and additional care at this time, means that there are challenges when deciding how to best navigate our work.
We have concerns and anxieties. Some seem insurmountable. Some, we worry, may not be resolved satisfactorily. How do we decide what is satisfactory? How do we determine what we are prepared to accept, especially if it is viewed as “less”? How do we balance all this with the ethical aspects presented when we are only able to offer a service we don’t truly think is “as good as it was”?
Having spent 30 years perfecting our “product”, coming to terms with the fact that it may no longer be viable in its current format is heart breaking. The fact that this unviability has literally nothing to do with what we do or how we do it – in the sense that it has not been caused by either – makes it feel especially unfair. Particularly when we consider how life changing our sessions have been to so many people.
One of the glorious aspects of Intensive Interaction, as most reading this will know, is that it is an approach which can, with guidance, be used by anyone prepared to have a go and who is keen to deepen the relationships they have with the people they support. The human, personal, sharing, mutually valuing relationships. The relationships that the vast majority of us seek out as some of the most fulfilling and rewarding. Not the relationships that are by necessity required to enable successful practical living, although the two are not mutually exclusive by any means.
We have always taken the view that leading by example, providing weekly sessions during which we demonstrate high quality Intensive Interaction and its effectiveness, is fundamental to modelling the accessibility and fun that is available. We offer separate training in Intensive Interaction, but the sessions – in the home, consistent, observable, open, joyful – have provided the greatest opportunities for discussion, scrutiny and questioning so important to establishing confident practitioners’/team members.
The restrictions imposed by the Covid virus, and that we have needed to incorporate into our Covid Management visiting policy, have changed the “look” and content of our sessions considerably. Indeed, at first glance they are not recognisable as an Us in a Bus session. Appropriate touch, exploration of proximity, sharing of space, close observation of breathing, using our voices, making ourselves completely available, never rejecting an advance, unconditional regard for people (however sticky with saliva they may be) all provide the scaffolding we build our shared time on. Experience has taught us that these things are effective in establishing rapport and connection, and our use of them is second nature. Having to operate without them, and with PPE, distanced and often outside (yes throughout the winter, and still) was initially challenging and anxiety provoking. Now, seven months later, it is still challenging and just plain draining.
Careful observation of the sessions that are taking place will show that many Intensive Interaction elements are still present. The familiar mirroring and echoing are still there. The waiting. Ensuring our interaction partners are leading and in charge. The empathy. The sensitivity to mood.
But, it is not the same and our team are constantly dealing with the thoughts and feelings that arise when operating in circumstances so different from what we want. The most distressing by far, is the constant worry that the requirement to maintain such physical space between, results in emotional and psychological space between. This is exacerbated when required to reject invitations to hold hands, or sit close, or “come with me”. The experience is further intensified for all concerned when these rejections result in obvious distress.
Ultimately, none of us at Us in a Bus are comfortable accepting the possibility that the extreme Covid forced restrictions are here to stay. Discarding something as effective, affective and emotionally vital as Intensive Interaction, because it may be perceived as “too risky”, and yet still promoting the importance of supporting human connection and emotional wellbeing is poorly thought through, and analogous of the baby/bath water saying.
We are holding on. Doing our best. Continuing to support each other as we unpick and trouble shoot. Beginning to prompt discussions with home managers and between ourselves about relaxing certain aspects of our visits. Discussing how to future proof. How to diversify. How to consolidate. How to promote current ways of working positively.
But above all, hoping.
Hoping that, with vaccinations and testing in place, sense will prevail, and a balance between being alive, and living, will be established.
Because, they are ultimately, not the same thing.