Art is a great way to explore our emotions and relate to the outside world. Someone who knows this well is Geoffrey, a resident at Soteria Independent Living’s home in Edmonson Park, a suburb in Sydney’s south-west.
Every Monday morning, the 42-year-old enjoys taking part in creativity sessions with his art therapist. His skills have grown over the months, shown by the growing collection of brightly-coloured paintings that decorate Geoffrey’s home. Even better, art has given him a voice. This is a significant achievement because Geoffrey is nonverbal, and lives with moderate intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder.
Geoffrey was first placed into care over 30 years ago, in a time when society’s understanding of autism was limited. According to Gus Feleauto, regional manager at Soteria, it is likely that as a child, Geoffrey’s needs weren’t fully understood by the institutions that cared for him. “Geoffrey’s behaviour suggests that while he has some positive memories while in his previous care setting, there are indicators that he had negative experiences in this environment,” says Gus.
About 18 months ago, Geoffrey moved into Soteria’s Edmonson Park group home, where he is currently the only resident.
The home is run by a passionate team of support workers who work diligently to help Geoffrey reach his goals. Led by Cynthia Juma, they are driven by Soteria’s philosophy of care: to help people live as independently as possible, while enjoying a life that is meaningful to them.
For Geoffrey, this starts with receiving high quality, round-the clock care that is attuned to his personality and individual needs. “Geoffrey can be anxious at times, and at these moments, he constant reassurance and support,” says Cynthia. “He receives 24-hour support from our support workers, who have settled him in well. They make sure his needs are met so he can follow the routine he prefers, and remain as independent as possible in all aspects of life.”
Practically, this involves providing Geoffrey with a range of supports. To prompt him about the day’s activities, he has an activity board in his living room with reminders for barbeques on Monday and Thursday, grocery shopping on Tuesday, bowling on Wednesday and Sunday, train ride on Friday and swimming on Saturday.
Geoffrey sees a behaviour clinician once a fortnight, who helps him learn sign language so he can better communicate his emotions. He has an iPad with apps such as Snap Core First, a communication aid that helps him express himself to his support workers.
Geoffrey’s carers are always on hand to help with various tasks, such as cutting his hair once a week. They also make sure he has an opportunity to do activities he enjoys. “Geoffrey likes going on long drives, so we gave him a van that his carers can use to take him on outings to see horses and other places of interest twice a day,” says Cynthia.
“He also looks forward to his birthday and other festivities such as Christmas and Easter, because his team make sure that there is always a party for him – he gets to cut a cake and receives gifts from his support workers and the managers.”
While Geoffrey is still working on different aspects of daily life, he has come a long way since he first moved into Soteria’s home.
According to Gus, Geoffrey has not only reduced the number of incidents he experiences, but also greatly improved his independent living skills.
“Geoffrey is independent in activities of daily living in relation to most aspects of personal care and domestic skills,” he says.
“The Edmonson Park team have been nothing short of amazing. They are the backbone of the home, and they keep Geoffrey ticking over his goals on a daily basis. We are so proud of what he’s achieved, and look forward to supporting him to achieve more in the future.”