At first, there was a lot of networking – “trying to establish contacts in areas where Christian had identified a lack of learning disability awareness”, explains Matthew. “There was a lot of reluctance to it, but we were able to persevere and make our point.” Gradually, Christian built up a reputation for delivering powerful workshops and presentations and was approached by many different organisations.
Most recently, this has led to a role co-presenting a workshop at a GP commissioning conference on how to work with your GP. And then the daunting task of writing and delivering the learning disability module to social work students at the University of Birmingham.
The university’s social work lecturer Nicki Ward wanted to make the course “a real living experience for people”. So, with help from Matthew, Vicki and two support workers, Christian planned the course based on learning outcomes. It consisted of two-days’ teaching to 18 students, covering everything from birth and childhood to transition and adulthood. Using
PowerPoint presentations and Christian’s visual records and photographs, the team talked about Christian’s experience of different aspects of life, branching off to mention things that other people might experience.
“In some ways, it was less about the content and more about the students being able to engage with Christian and his family and supporters,” says Nicki. “Some of the students were initially a bit anxious about how this was going to work and maybe a bit cynical. However, the feedback ultimately was that it had done what we hoped – which was not only to give them information about working with people with a learning disability, but also a really good example of how it works in practice, and perhaps to overcome some of those anxieties.”
It was so successful that Nicki is running the course again next year. Importantly, Christian enjoyed it, too. “I think the difference between doing a one-hour workshop and doing the whole module was a big thing for him,” says Matthew. “It was nerve-racking and very tiring, but I think he felt very proud of himself. His work has clearly benefited his life and he’s thrived from it. In the last two years, when Christian has been much more active in work, he hasn’t had any hospital admissions.”
Vicki agrees. “When Christian was at school, he was labelled as challenging, and was very badly understood and didn’t get the right support,” she says. “He is such a quietly confident person now.”