For 32 year old Robert, his Support Worker, Karen Jeans, is without doubt, his real life hero.
“It perhaps sounds boy-ish and fantastical to compare a mortal human to a comic superhero character. But for me Karen is a heroic character. She is intent on making this a better place for people. Karen’s commitment to her work and the results she achieves has completely transformed my life. I couldn’t be more grateful for her honourable goals and commitment. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.”
Robert was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 13, despite his family’s concerns arising soon after Robert’s 2nd birthday.
After a ‘disastrous’ time at mainstream school, Robert suffered at the hands of bullies and after a turbulent time at school, he ultimately suffered a complete nervous breakdown.
Robert comments; “At 2 ½ I was receiving Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy and attending a special needs group to try and help me grow in confidence. Throughout my school years I was at mainstream school, without a diagnosis and therefore without any additional support. I couldn’t keep up with my peers and this massively affected my confidence and I became increasingly anxious. My parents took me to see the educational psychologist at Junior school and, although they recognised some traits, it took a further seven years before a formal diagnosis came.”
Asperger’s Syndrome is an unseen disability, and this can lead to unfair judgements, negative assumptions and social isolation for those with the condition, and their families.
“Following diagnosis life got better,” reflects Robert. “It wasn’t so much that getting a diagnosis changed who I was in any way, but it changed my perspective of why I am the way I am. It gave me a reason for my anxiety, and more than anything, it allowed my family and I to access support and get the help we so desperately needed. Before I started receiving support from Autism Wessex I hadn’t left the house alone for years. The work Karen has done as my Support Worker has, without question, been life changing for me. ”
Karen met Robert through her role as a Support Worker at Autism Wessex more than five years ago and immediately got to work on setting some personal goals for Robert to achieve. The first of these was going to his local coffee shop and finding somewhere to sit and order his drink. At the time, this filled Robert with anxiety.
Karen comments; “Motivation, encouragement, communication and routine are key to assist a service user to lessen their fear of the outside world and turn it from the unknown to the known. Daily challenges need to be overcome and this is where the Support Worker’s role is vital. Service users, by their very nature, need to follow routines. When these routines change, it is the role of the Support Worker to help them adjust to minimise the levels of anxiety. Going out socialising, to the cinema, bowling, swimming, even planning for a holiday can all be scary. With thoughtful conversations and planning between the service user and Support Worker, all of these things can become achievable and really raise self esteem.”
In the five years Robert has known Karen he has gone from being too anxious to leave his parent’s home without a companion, to holding down a part-time job, meeting and making friends at a Drop-In group, continued volunteering with Autism Wessex and taking annual holidays abroad to Germany’s Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg, the largest model railway in the world.
Robert concludes; “I don’t think without Karen’s and the Community Wessex team’s support I could have achieved so much. I wouldn’t have met some of the wonderful friends I now have in my life, I wouldn’t have been to Germany and I wouldn’t be making plans to live in my own home, something I hope to do in the very near future.”
Karen has been working for Autism Wessex for 15 years and comments; “The job of a Support Worker can be demanding, but also extremely rewarding. Supporting people to live independently, maintain well being and enhance quality of life requires the support worker to understand that every individual requires different support depending on their needs.
“I find it amusing that Robert calls me his superhero because actually he is the hero. He has found the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. Some heroes don’t have capes and Robert is one of them.”