All the conversations I have had in the past with staff working with learning disabilities have suggested that the Eden Alternative Principles were already being used, although not consciously, to enable their clients to live an independent, normal life. So when we were asked to train staff working in the community with clients with severe learning disabilities as Eden Associates I was ready for some hard questioning. The training went well as participative learning was put to the test. Staff were encouraged to identify how the Eden Principles would apply in their care settings and exercises were tailored to fit their identified circumstances.
Eighteen months on and five small homes for people with learning disabilities were very keen to apply for a place on the Eden Alternative UK Register of Homes. Self- Assessments were completed and validation visits arranged. As with all validation visits staff and clients were enthusiastic to show us how they had commenced their implementation of the new philosophy and how it had changed the lives of everyone involved. We were blown away with what we saw and heard.
Getting to know all the client’s likes and dislikes and involving them in the process of change resulted in the transformation of individual rooms and lounges. Each client’s room was decorated with their help to their own taste and the lounges reflected the personalities of the people using them. Garden furniture was painted and decorated by clients and staff. Recycled materials were used for home and garden features and bird feeders and all brightly decorated.
Two stories show the power of the Eden Alternative in questioning assumptions and never being satisfied by the first answer
John, not his real name, would not go outside the home and became distressed whenever it was attempted. He was given all the loving care in the home but had very limited options for activities and his behaviour became difficult at times. Through their Eden training, in particular Principle 8, the staff became empowered and given permission to think beyond the limits of their previous practice. What was John missing from being confined by his fear of the outside world? How could they widen his world? Small steps were the answer. Beginning with short walks around the home, followed by very short walks outside the front door which gradually became longer and longer John’s fears were overcome. Twelve months later with help and encouragement John now not only has the confidence to go outside but visits the local pub regularly on his own.
Maintaining the status quo was also the safe option practiced by staff in another home. Alice hates fairground rides, so her mother maintained when a trip to a theme park was suggested. Eden Alternative teaches participants to check their assumptions. Getting to know the people you care for deeply means finding out what they really want, not just the big things but the little things that give them the greatest pleasure and verbal communication does not always achieve this. Alice’s body language when she reached the theme park told the staff what she wanted and her enjoyment when she was on the ride gave not only her but the staff a huge sense of achievement.
These were just two of the stories we heard when we visited the homes. Staff said Eden had empowered them and this in turn has given them the permission to empower their clients. They have taken care in this very special area to new improved heights.
June Burgess, Regional Coordinator, Eden Alternative UK