by Kate Boyer, Intensive Interaction Facilitator and Mentor
For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a Police Officer. My Dad was in the Police Force and it was all I ever wanted to do – I was inspired by him and the work he did. Unfortunately, back then the opportunities were definitely not equal and at 5’1 I was far too short to join the Force. It was not to be.
Who remembers telex machines?
I left school at 15 (this was the norm back in the late 1970’s) and I worked in an office, This was really interesting. I worked with Agricultural Economists who travelled the world and I loved hearing about their travels. I gained qualifications in shorthand and typing, I used a Telex machine (a fascinating piece of equipment) and a Rank Xerox word processor – I went to London at the ripe age of 17 to learn how to use it. Gosh how times have changed!
I was very happy in my work, but something was missing. I still had the deep yearning to be a Police Officer and felt a void, I didn’t know how to fill it.
In my early twenties I was admitted to hospital rather suddenly and unexpectedly with appendicitis. I stayed in hospital for about ten days.
In the same ward as me was an elderly lady who, looking back, I realise most likely had dementia and a mental health illness. She wandered around day and night carrying a shoe box. Inside the shoe box was a small slipper. She wanted to show everybody the slipper and would forget who she had shown it to. The other patients were very fed up with her – they were poorly and wanted to rest, but I also noticed they looked quite fearful of her and didn’t know how to respond to her. The nursing staff got a little cross with her too – they steered her back to her bed but a few minutes later she would get up again, just wanting to talk to somebody about the slipper.
An unlikely friendship
The lady (her name was Mabel) came to my bedside in the middle of the night and of course she had her precious shoe box with her. I invited her to sit on my bed and asked if I could see inside the box. Inside was a tiny slipper, a child’s slipper wrapped up in tissue paper – I could see the slipper was very old. I asked Mabel who the slipper belonged to. It belonged to a child called Millicent.
Millicent was Mabel’s daughter and she had sadly passed away when she was very young. I felt desperately sad for Mabel, all she wanted to do was talk about Millicent - she told me what she had looked like, what toys she liked, about her favourite dress and her bedroom. Mabel lit up when she spoke about her daughter, she became animated. From then on Mabel and I struck up an unlikely friendship – she forgot we had already spoken about Millicent and she kept coming to me and repeating the story over and over. Each time I responded as if it was the first time she had told me.
Mabel was assessed to go into a care home and I chatted to the people who came to assess her. I included Mabel in the conversations and encouraged her to show the people Millicent’s slipper. I can’t say I had an awakening as such but I did think to myself I might like to work in a care home or somewhere similar.
A career change to care
So that was where my journey began. I had a complete career change and I worked in a nursing home for elderly people. I had the grand title of an ‘Auxiliary Nurse’ and I absolutely loved the work, I really did. When the home had to close (there were funding issues back then just as there are now) I began working in the community, supporting people in their own homes. I supported all sorts of people, young and elderly with all sorts of difficulties and again I loved what I was doing.
I found myself steering more to the people with learning difficulties, I seemed to have an affinity with them and felt, as part of a team, I was making a positive difference to their lives.
The start of a career at MacIntyre
I took a job in a college for young adults with autism – and I found that void I had felt for so long was filled. MacIntyre took over the college in 2005 and Oakley College was formed – within a few short months I had been given the opportunity to undertake all sorts of valuable and meaningful training.
One of our training days was Intensive Interaction with Dave Hewett from the Intensive Interaction Institute. Oh my goodness! That ‘thing’ I had been doing with some of the people we supported had a name! It was a real ‘thing’! Now that moment was an awakening, it really was.
Oakley College was in a temporary building and we moved to and formed a partnership with Abingdon and Witney College – MAP* was born. This was much further from my home and a bit too far for me to travel so once I had supported the transitioning of the students to the new college, I transferred over to MacIntyre’s school in Wingrave as a Learning Support Assistant. That was back in 2011 and I could probably write a book on the experiences I have had here. I work with the most amazing staff teams who provide wonderful opportunities for the people we support. Opportunities to flourish and thrive – to live a life which is enriched, meaningful and most importantly a life which makes sense.
Intensive Interaction is very much my ‘thing’ and it is the ‘thing’ of the people we support. I am so thankful for the training I had all those years ago and the training I have had since. I am very proud to work for an organisation who has always had the mantra of using a person centred approach, of using preferred methods of communication and looking at each person we support as an individual. Everyone has the potential to learn and by using Intensive Interaction, we are supporting people with a learning disability to develop their competence and confidence as a communicator – I am immensely proud to be part of that.
Lessons from a brain injury
It is also worth a mention that I sustained a traumatic brain injury a few years ago and I have needed some reasonable adjustments put in place for me at work. MacIntyre have been very supportive of this for which I am thankful. It isn’t just about adjustments to the hours and days I work - it is about understanding and kindness, support and encouragement. I have a ‘buddy’ in meetings who will discreetly support me if I interrupt and they will see my need to leave quietly without drawing attention to it.
I struggle with the fire alarm sounding and I am always looked after in an appropriate way with understanding and kindness. My difficulties are recognised and supported but I am also encouraged in my work. My colleagues believe in me and this has meant I now believe in myself. That for me is absolutely priceless.
I feel my own difficulties have given me greater empathy for the people we support. I can get sensory overload at times and not always know how to manage it. I wear a hearing aid and sometimes external noises will mean I can’t actually focus on any one sound. I can get emotionally overwhelmed if my brain is not properly rested and if extreme, I don’t always know where or how to channel those heightened emotions.
A silver lining
I had moments in the early years after my injury when I felt completely desolate and couldn’t see a way forward. With lots of professional input, kindness and support from colleagues, friends and family and my own hard work and determination, I have made a very good recovery. I know we give the people we support the same level of professional input, kindness and support but above all we get it, we just get it. Having a deeper understanding of those difficulties is one of the silver linings in my cloud. Those difficulties will always be there but it is about accepting them and managing them in a way which makes sense to the person. It comes back to that wonderful person centred approach. An approach tailored to each individual which supports them to live an enriched life which makes complete sense.
A mentoring role
I now mentor staff to attain their competency in Intensive Interaction and I feel I am in a very privileged position! I am very contented in my work, no two days are the same and I never ever have the feeling I don’t want to come to work.
Along the way I have taken on a few other things alongside the Intensive Interaction – I am part of the Autism Special Interest Group, I look after the school and children’s homes Twitter account and I am on our Local Advisory Board to name just a few things. Oh and I look after the classroom plants when the school is on holiday – now that is a responsibility!
So I didn’t get to follow my Dad and be the Police Officer I always dreamt of being but that void has definitely been filled. I know that my Dad would be extremely proud of me being part of a team which do such amazing things for such incredible people.
*MacIntyre and Abingdon College Partnership