Anne McCormack and her husband Fergal set up a microboard for their son Seamus in 2003. They live in Northern Ireland and Sheree went to visit them to learn from their experiences.
Children learn to speak by being immersed in language. All around them people are modelling how to speak. This modelling happens not only when people are speaking to the child but also to each other.
It’s the same for learning a second language. The best way to learn to speak French is to go to France.
People learning to use alternative communication methods often experience a big difference in the language used by people around them and the language they are expected to use on their communication system. To enable them to learn to use their communication system their entire network of family, friends, supporters and people in the community need to be able to use their communication tool.
But how do you enable that to happen? Here are some ideas…..
- Put together a powerpoint training pack you can share with people about how to use the tool.
- Create some videos and share them on Youtube with your family member’s social and paid support networks
- Hold a pizza night and play some communication games:
- retelling a well known children’s story (Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood etc)
- Charades – instead of acting out the movie, book or well known phrase, describe them using the communication device
- Group story writing – make up a silly story and tell it using the communication device. Each person takes a turn to write one line of the story. You can provide a starting sentence to the story to get everyone thinking. For example One day the caterpillar hatched out of a tiny egg and he was very hungry. Then the murders began….
- Hold a silent morning tea – invite people over for morning tea or go out to a cafe and nobody is allowed to speak for the entire event.
Like in any profession, there are great support workers and there are ordinary ones. If you check out some of the adverts for support workers on www.seek.com.au you will soon find that in many adverts the only requirements are qualifications in disability care, a working with vulnerable people card and a drivers licence. Job adverts like this don’t inspire great people to apply as great people are looking for great opportunities.
Here are our top tips for writing a great job advert to attract great people……
Tip #1: Include an interesting description of the person to be supported.
Describe what the person to be supported likes to do for fun or what they would like to be able to do. This will attract people with similar interests and having similar interests is great for building good relationships. Having a good relationship with the person who supports you is vital for good support.
I love music, disco lights and live gigs. I also love the sun and being outside. I’m fascinated by anything which has moving parts, and I think cruising around in the car with the music cranked up is pretty cool. I’m into being both physically and mentally active. I’m really enjoying drama classes right now, being on the stage and being the centre of attention.
People say I’m very charming and a smooth operator. I’m determined, and curious. I’m a Leo and that describes me perfectly! I was also born in Yorkshire which might be why I’m proud, and stubborn.
I’m soon going to be leaving school, so I have started doing work experience which delivers magazines to waiting rooms. I’m hoping to develop this into a mail delivery business.
I also have a disability and need help to achieve my life goals.
Tip #2: Use colour that reflects the personality of the person to be supported.
The look and feel of an advert is also key to attracting the right kind of person. The look and feel should make people reading the advert feel a certain way. Colours can make us feel different emotions. Think about the personality of the person to be supported and their personality and choose colours that align with them.
- Edgy and cool – black and white
- Playful and energetic – orange
- Happy and friendly – yellow
- Easy going – blue
- Mysterious – purple
- Outdoorsy – green
- Passionate – red
Tip #3: Include a photo
Include a photo of the person to be supported doing their favourite activity to highlight the fun and interesting things about them. Ideally the photo should be a closeup shot that shows them enjoying the activity. This will again help create an emotional response to the advert and help you attract the right kind of person.
Tip #4: Describe the personal characteristics you are looking for
Think about the person to be supported and their personality traits and consider what personality traits a support worker should have to increase the likelihood of building a good relationship. Also think about the person’s goals for the year and the kind of person that could help them achieve those goals. Here are some examples…..
Check out this list of personality traits to find ones that best describe what you are looking for.
Here are some examples:
respectful in your relationships with others
a good relationship builder
a fast learner
an excellent communicator and listener
able to take direction and follow through on tasks on time.
able to show initiative
a team player
Tip #5: Include a list of interests
Having a common interest can improve the likelihood of a good relationship with the support worker and can also bring about opportunities for developing further relationships with others who have a similar interest. Include a list of interests that would make applicants ideal candidates.
Tip #6: Describe the nature of the role
Make sure you include the basics:
- Part time or full time
- Shift times and activities
- Pay rate
- Superannuation benefits
- Other bonuses – opportunities to travel, do training and so on
Also include the above and beyond the basics stuff like that you will need your support workers to do. Examples are teaching, mentoring, using technology, networking, conflict resolution and so on.
It’s ok to be creative and intriguing!
Are you the…mentor, life coach, Personal Assistant, Isaac is looking for? Are you a creative and resourceful teacher, guide, right hand person?
Are you looking for…..a job which stretches your boundaries, where you work outside the box, which explores new territory…???? Kind of like working for Google?
Are you a teacher with creative genius who wants to walk on the wild side?
…a free-spirited 18 year old young man.
Tip #7: Describe Your Microboard’s Culture & Role
It’s important to include a description of the Microboard, it’s culture and role so that potential employees understand who will be their employer and what it’s like to work for them.
Explain what the purpose of the microboard is and what your microboard is like.
My microboard – Isaac’s Band of Brothers & Sisters – is hiring a small team to help me experience university life, set up my small business, get fit and improve my literacy and communication. “The Band” is a caring, focussed and fun bunch of friends who are skilled professionals committed to helping me have a good life.
Tip #8: Include details on how and when to apply
Make sure you include instructions on how to apply. You can also be creative here. Asking candidates to submit a two minute video explaining why they want the job can help you weed out those that are not serious about the job, have technical skills and the confidence you may be needing in a candidate.
Alternatively you can ask them to send in a CV and a statement that describes how they meet each of the criteria you have listed in your add.
Many of our families experience gathering together people for their first meeting, getting great ideas and then nothing happens. That’s really frustrating! Check out Sheree’s video overview of the kinds of things you can do using PODIO.
Podio is our favourite online collaboration tool that helps us work together with microboard members and paid support staff, track tasks, manage emergency information and keep the knowledge and vision around our sons and daughters.We offer a coaching package to families to help you:
- Set up your PODIO account
- Configure your PODIO workspace to meet your needs
- Train you and your microboard members in how to use it
- Provide you with ongoing tips in how to get the best out of PODIO
The cost is $1050 plus GST $105 = $1155. Contact us to get started.
Communication is a really important focus for microboards. We have an important role to play in helping the person at the centre of our microboard if they have complex communication needs to learn to be autonomous communicators.
Being able to communicate is not just about being able to ask for what you want. While in the early days it’s a great place to start modelling because the person can see that they can get what they want when you use the communication device. But communication is not just about getting what you want. It’s also about building relationships with others, sharing ideas, asking questions and so on. It’s important we don’t get stuck only using the device for requesting.
There are so many more conversations to be had and this tool will help you be mindful of the other kinds of conversations you can have throughout the day.
What is this tool for?
This tool will help you to identify people to ask to join your microboard.
How to use this tool
- Write down all the places you go or could go during a typical week across the top of the worksheet.
- Write all of the people you each know or see regularly in those environments – even if you don’t know them well or don’t think you could ask them. Don’t rule them out yet just write them down.
- Think about the kind of people you would like in your Microboard – people with similar interests people who have useful skills eg social networking, business, teaching etc, people who are fun and friendly and so on.
- Choose who to ask
Asking can be scary. See our article on how to overcome this. It can make you feel needy and vulnerable. This article will give you some tips on asking so that you will feel more confident.
Tip No 1. Believe that asking is the right thing to do
If you believe that asking is not the right thing to do then that will make you fearful. In a previous article I shared 5 Reasons why asking people to freely give their time to be involved in your son or daughter’s life is a good idea. Read through them to counteract any beliefs you may have that what you are about to do isn’t right.
Tip No 2. Know why you are asking
Your reason for asking needs to be more than just “because I want to set up a circle.” Circles are just a means to an end. What is it that you would like to achieve for your son and daughter through a circle? Do you want to help them to make some big decisions about their life? Help them find a job? Help them make friends? Some other reason? If you want to ask someone to come on a trip with you, they will want to know where you are going in order for them to be able to make a decision whether to join you or not.
Tip No 3. Who will you ask?
This can also be a tricky thing to work out. A good way to start is to write down all the places your family members go during a typical week and then make a list of the people you each know in those environments. If you don’t know them very well, spend a few weeks just chatting to them to get to know them. Find out what their interests are, what they do for a living and about their family life. Let them do all the talking.
Next, think about the kind of people you would like in your circle – people with similar interests to your son or daughter, people who have useful skills eg social networking, business, teaching etc, people who are fun and friendly and so on. Then from your list choose who you could ask. Remember that we are all busy. Often the busiest people are the best to ask as they like to get involved in life.
Check out our People You Know in the Places You Go tool to help you identify who to ask to join your Microboard.
Tip No 4. Practice asking
Being able to ask for help is an important skill for all of us. Start practicing it at home, at work, when you are out and about. Ask for little, easy doable things. Could you please help me set the table? Could you please help me find my keys? Could you please help me clean the office?
Tip No 5. How will you ask?
I think this is the key. If you get this part wrong people are less likely to get involved. Avoid doing the Big Ask eg “will you help my son find a job” is too big an ask. People are often happy to be asked to do a small support role that is easy, fun and achievable. You do not want to imply that you are asking the person to take care of your son or daughter for the rest of their lives! So the first ask may be “My son finishes school next year and I’m keen for him to find a job. I’m having trouble thinking of ideas so I thought I’d invite a few people over for afternoon tea to brainstorm some possibilities. Would you be interested in that?” You might ask over the phone, face to face, or send a little afternoon tea invitation. Make it personable and fun.
Remember to avoid the Big Ask. Keep what you are asking for small, simple and a reasonable expectation. You might have come up with a list of ideas in your meeting so at the end of your meeting you might pick one of the ideas and break it down into small stepping stones.
For example, one of the ideas might have been for your son to work in a newsagent because he loves magazines and keeping things tidy. One stepping stone might be to scout around some local newsagencies to find one that has a good feel about it and is a suitable environment for your son to work in. So a small ask might be, when you next go to your local shops to do your shopping, could you check out the newsagent and see if it might be a suitable place.
Asking one person to get in their car and spend several hours checking out newsagents would not be a reasonable thing to ask. Asking all of the people to just add this extra little thing to what they are already doing is reasonable.
Tip No 7. Be patient and celebrate the little things
If you are like me, you will want things to happen straight away. They never do. It’s important to be patient. Building a good life for someone takes time. This is very slow work. Hang in there. Keep your long term dreams in mind but celebrate the little achievements. Finding that there is a newsagency in your community that has the right environment for your son to work in deserves celebrating, even though this is just the very first stepping stone in a long line of them that need to be done.
Asking for help can be challenging. You don’t want to impose, you feel it is your responsibility, you don’t know how to ask. Here are some things to keep in mind to feel confident you are doing the right thing by asking…..
1. Because social isolation is bad for the health of all people
An article in the Australian Newspaper reported on a scientific review of 148 previous studies involving more than 300,000 people. This review found that those with adequate social relationships were 50 per cent more likely to be alive after an average follow-up period of nearly eight years, compared to more socially isolated people.
2. Because when the community is denied the opportunity to include people with disabilities, they cannot learn how to include them
One of the major reasons why individuals with a disability are often excluded from community is that we have simply failed to ask.
Many of us feel that our son’s and daughters who have a disability are our responsibility and asking other family members, friends and neighbours is asking too much. Its also a commonly held belief within the community that inclusion is the responsibility of paid service providers and not the community itself.
3. Social capital provides you with access to resources
Significant opportunities can arise when you are connected to the community. These opportunities arise from social capital. Social capital provides you with resources through your networks such as information, ideas, leads, business opportunities, financial capital, power and influence, emotional support and so on.
When we don’t ask the community to be involved in the lives of people with disability, they are denied these opportunities. Asking is actually an essential tool for all people not just for those with a disability.
4. Having friends keep our sons and daughters safe
People with disability have an increased risk of being subject to abuse due to a range of factors, such as limitations in communication and physical ability, cognitive capacity, shared accommodation facilities, increased social isolation, and dependence on others for personal care and support.
Abuse and neglect can of course occur in the community or at home but the belief that a person is safer with a paid professional is unfounded.
All of us hope that professionals in the disability sector have a strong moral compass and work hard to support quality of life of people with intellectual disability. This is not always true and our family members can still be at risk from abuse.
Abuse is not always one off serious incidents. It can be small seemingly insignificant actions that occur over a long period of time. For example not placing a person’s communication device within reach or leaving it behind when going out – leaving them without a voice.
With the coming of the NDIS the climate is increasingly focussed on funding and paying for professional support. In such a climate it is important to remember that what actually creates safe and secure futures for our sons and daughters is social connection and freely given relationships.
Friends know our sons and daughters well. They know what makes them happy, when we are in pain or when their needs are not being met. Friends keep an eye out for our sons and daughters and can advocate for them. A friendship network can assist the family to safeguard our son’s and daughters.
It is extremely important that this network of friends and family all follow a set of values and principles that help safeguard your family member and guide their actions to ensure your family member is safe, is included in the community and is given choice and control over their own life.
5. Because you can achieve more for your family member with help
As previously mentioned significant opportunities can arise when you are connected to the community. Having a network of friends who can assist you to find out information, generate ideas, investigate leads, identify employment opportunities, provide emotional support and so on lightens the load on the family.
Don’t know who to ask?
Read this article on how to find people to ask