Supporting the Supporters: Helping Martin enjoy the pool

Martin pictured with his social story book he uses when he goes swimming

A simple picture-based story has made Martin’s trips to the leisure centre a more pleasurable experience for him and those around him

The Regional Communication Service (RCS) supports people who live with communication difficulties and the people who support them.

To provide this support, the RCS uses an innovative capacity building model of service provision. This is different from traditional service provision, such as the medical model. In the medical model, the speech pathologist is the expert who assesses, provides therapy and resources. In the Regional Communication Service, the Speech Pathologist builds the capacity of staff and/or other significant people with a person’s life to ensure sustainable change.

A recent example of working in this way was a request I received from a staff member at Noweyung, an adult training and support service in Bairnsdale. We share an on-going professional relationship where we collaborate to provide communication strategies for people with disabilities who attend Noweyung. As a speech pathologist, I provide advice and feedback on communication strategies that staff suggest, thus building the capacity of the staff in the process.

The staff member described the scenario of Martin, an enthusiastic and outgoing man with a disability. He communicates using key word sign, some words (although often difficult for those who don’t know him to understand) and pictures. Martin loves swimming at his local leisure centre. He attends a swimming program with staff there to support him.

In attending the local leisure centre, there are many social rules that people observe – this includes an understanding of change room etiquette, when it is OK to get in and out of the water and where it is OK to swim, exercise or just play around. Staff supporting Martin understood that using speech alone could not communicate the many rules and expectations at the pool. So, it was decided to develop a picture-based story that looked at important information for Martin be able to understand the rules of pool behaviour. The picture-based story, also known as a social story, incorporated photos of Martin and simple written information about what to do and what not to do at the leisure centre.

The staff member took photos and drafted the story with the help of the speech pathologist from the Regional Communication Service. The book was then read to Martin who was able to recognise the photos and understand what it meant. He particularly enjoyed the section on when it was okay to jump in and to splash.

This book changed Martin’s swimming program completely. It increased his understanding of the behaviour that was expected. Staff noticed that Martin seemed more confident swimming at the pool and it also reduced many of the tensions that arose from misunderstandings that had previously occurred.

With the support and supervision of a RCS speech pathologist, the staff member was able to produce a simple picture-based story that made Martin’s trips to the leisure centre a more pleasurable experience for him and those around him. The added bonus now, being a staff member who has learned how to develop and implement a useful communication strategy.

By Mel Newcomen
Speech Pathologist
Gippsland Regional Communication Service