Many of our service users have learning disabilities and our advocates have a wide range of skills in recognising and responding appropriately to their needs. For example, we make sure we communicate in ways chosen by and best suited to the service user; think about how we present and discuss information and whether it needs to be repeated to help with memory or processing issues, and consider best times and places to meet.
In Learning Disability Week we’d like to give you an example of the advocacy we provide to people with learning disabilities. This is Jennifer’s story (name has been changed) as told by her advocate Leila Radmard.
Jennifer identifies as non binary and chooses to be referred to as she/her. She has a diagnosis of Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). She felt she hadn’t learnt certain life skills due to her learning disabilities and this was affecting many areas of her life including:
- Her housing situation – new neighbours had moved in and created a lot of noise, which was made worse by the Covid lockdown. She had been offered a new property without much warning and was worried about moving during lockdown restrictions.
- Her student life - Jennifer was at university last year and was due to hand in her dissertation but her ADHD made it difficult to meet the deadline. As a result of confusing miscommunication with the university Jennifer was unsure whether she was still enrolled.
- Her finances – Jennifer was struggling to cope
- Her ability to cope with change and decision-making – she described feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and paralysed by not feeling able to plan and think.
- Her sense of isolation– she previously received mental health support through her housing provider but this would no longer be available in her new accommodation.
I spent time building a rapport with Jennifer, understanding how her disabilities affected her. Due to being on the Autism spectrum Jennifer asked for clear communication so that she could fully understand what was happening e.g. they preferred simplified language and short sentences. I explained the advocacy role, for example I reassured Jennifer that no information would be shared without her consent (unless she or someone else was at risk), that we are independent from other services and that I would be led by her and always take her side.
Once I’d established a good working relationship with Jennifer, I supported her to:
- negotiate with the university about her student status and options
- move home and settle into the new property
- secure benefits to which she was entitled
- explore access to appropriate mental health services for ongoing support
- develop skills to advocate for herself e.g. I supported her to make phone calls, included her in emails so that she would have a record for future reference, included and was led by her in planning the actions she would like to take.
As a result of our support Jennifer:
- got an extension to finish her last year of university, is enrolled for examinations only and does not need to attend classes
- receives Universal Credit and assistance to pay rent arrears
- is exempted from paying Council Tax
- gets PIP to help with personal care and assistance
- moved peacefully to her new home
- is better equipped to deal with situations in the future, make plans and decisions and have her voice heard.
If you would like to make a referral to our services for yourself or someone else go to Refer to Connected Voice Advocacy