An overview of the clinical services we offer to support families and professionals in Ireland by Mary Maher, a member of our Clinical and Training Team at Studio 3 Irealand.
‘Write an article Mary. Tell everyone about what we do here in Ireland,’ said our esteemed CEO Andy McDonnell. On the face of it, that should be really easy to do, however it is anything but. Where do I start?
On any given day, I could be delivering a training course in the morning. By the afternoon, I could be supporting parents as they manage some distressed behaviours in the family home. When that is finished, I could be working on an assessment report to make a diagnosis, or assess the needs of someone seeking services, or working on a case for the court. Working for Studio 3 Ireland is demanding, exciting and challenging on any given day, and no two days are the same. Working for Studio 3 Ireland is also extremely rewarding, as we get to make a real difference in the lives of those we support.
This article seeks to give an overview of some of the work we have undertaken in the past few years here in Ireland, and provide an insight into the support we offer to families and individuals.
Riding Out the Storm: Covid-19 Pandemic
The Covid 19 pandemic taught us that there were more ways to support people than ‘in-person on-site.’ The month before the pandemic, Andy arrived at our offices in Maynooth with a box under his arm. Out of the box he produced a funny little robotic thing. He explained that this wonderful new technology called ‘Zoom’ was going to revolutionise how we did our job. The funny little robotic thing had a camera and a microphone, and swivelled around to observe each of us as we spoke. He even linked it up with our colleagues in the UK to give us a practical demonstration of just how amazing it was. To be honest we were impressed, but didn’t think it would be of much use to us other than the odd catch up call with Head Office. Well, how we swallowed those words a mere month later. Andy was back for his monthly round of visits to Ireland: the pandemic (or the two weeks we thought we were going to have to stay home) was about to be declared. Andy left on the Wednesday fearing he’d be stranded in Ireland for a whole two weeks if a lockdown was declared, leaving the little robotic thing sitting on the office table.
The rest is history. Over the following weeks and months, we reinvented ourselves. The people who needed us still needed us, and we were going to do whatever it took to remain committed to the people, organisations, and families who depended on us. In fact, more people than ever needed us, because lockdown meant that in addition to our normal clinical and training work, many of the people we support were now without a service, and families needed our help more than ever. The advantage of the little robotic thing was that it didn’t matter anymore where we were, or where the people who needed us were, or that we couldn’t meet face-to-face anymore - we could work across borders. The little robotic thing became our new best friend and our new way of doing just that.
Post-Covid, Studio 3 Ireland continues to be heavily involved in the more traditional side of our clinical and assessment work, which includes doing all types of assessments including diagnostics, needs assessments and service specifications, and providing clinical oversight for services. There is a growing demand too for new initiatives, as the focus has shifted from not just the person with the diagnosis, but to the team around the person. This includes parents and family members, as well as staff teams and professionals involved. As we evolved and grew during Covid, we continue to evolve and grow to meet the clinical and training demands of services, families, and schools in Ireland.
Exploring My Autism Course
Historically, there has been a lot of negativity attached to receiving a diagnosis of autism. Sometimes the diagnosis can come at the end of a long period of wondering why an individual finds some things difficult. To others, it can come as a relief: at last, they have a name for it! It can, however, be distressing and difficult for the person who has received a diagnosis of autism as they try to figure out what exactly being autistic means for them.
Studio 3 has developed a new ‘Exploring My Autism’ course for people who have just received their diagnosis, or people who have had difficulty coming to terms with what their diagnosis means in practical terms for them.
In 2022 we rolled out our new ‘Exploring My Autism’ course. Developed in collaboration with service providers, this ten-week bespoke and interactive course (delivered over ten 1-hour sessions) focuses on working directly with young adults who have a diagnosis of ASD, to help them understand what being autistic means to them. Too often, these types of courses focus primarily on the deficits that come with a diagnosis. This course covers not just the challenges that being autistic can present, but focuses on the many positive qualities and traits that come with being autistic. Too often there is a focus on what people do wrong or can’t achieve. We try to counter-balance that perspective by addressing the many strong admirable features that we see in the people we work with.
Each participant gets to chart their own autistic and sensory profiles, and in doing so, develop a better understanding of their strengths and challenges. Realising that they are very different from other people in their group is really empowering for them. We discuss stress and how to manage it more effectively. We do breathing exercises and the Emotional Freedom Technique to use as coping strategies in times of distress. We practice different forms of mindfulness, from body scans to walking meditation. We try polyvagal relaxation techniques. We explore ways of making the sensory demands of the world less challenging. We have an olfactory and taste workshop where we have great fun, exploring all sorts of smells, scents and tastes, discussing how it affects our nose or taste buds and even our mood. We look at the challenges that executive functioning can present, and explore hints and tips to help to be more organised.
At the end of the ten-week course, each participant is awarded a certificate of completion. We have had great feedback from both participants and staff alike who have attended. We hope to offer this course to other organisations over the coming months. It is engaging, participatory, informative and, most of all, fun for the participants who attend.
Low Arousal Family Training and Support
Many families who live with and support a loved-one who has additional needs such as a diagnosis of autism spectrum difference (ASD), attentional deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), trauma, attachment disorder, acquired brain injury (ABI) or intellectual disability can have trouble understanding, managing, or changing their more complex challenges and behaviours. They have tried their utmost to help their child, teenage, or adult family member in the best way they know how, yet they still face daily challenges at home, at school or college, in a day service, and out in the community.
This is why Studio 3 have developed a Family Support Programme which endeavours to meet the individual needs of each family, and coaches parents, carers and siblings to develop a skill set to support their family member, in a practical and non-confrontational way.
Family Training in Low Arousal Approaches
All Studio 3 Family Training courses are based on the principles of the Low Arousal Approach to managing distressed behaviours by lowering physiological arousal, thus preventing situations escalating to crisis levels in the first place, and by developing an understanding of why the behaviour occurs. Part of the solution for many people is focusing on and improving their living, school and working environments to make those environments less demanding and stressful.
Many organisations and schools recognise that applying Low Arousal Approaches across all areas of a person’s life has great benefits, not just at organisational level, but for the person with additional needs and their family.
Our family training takes place over a number of sessions, exploring the complexity of the individual person, and the needs of the family. We also offer online introductory and advanced Low Arousal training, bespoke and group family training sessions, as well as ongoing coaching and mentoring after training has been completed to support implementing theory into practice. This can be delivered online, face-to-face, or in a hybrid of both.
Group training is provided on a bespoke basis, where the needs of the group are the focus. Participants are taught the Low Arousal Approach for managing difficult behaviours, challenges experienced by their loved-ones are explored and explained, and participants are encouraged to develop skills to meet the sometimes complex situations that they face in their families.
For more information about the range of family training and support available, visit www.studio3.org/family-training.
We recently held a focus group with a group of students and staff in an organisation that we have worked with for many years. We wanted to look at the subject of bullying, which we know can be the cause of much distress in the population that we support. We wanted to design an informative bullying course that addressed the real issues that our young people with autism and ADHD come across. The focus group gave us a dearth of information: one of the interesting things that we discovered is that 90% of the people who took part in the focus group had been bullied at some time in their lives. Some people wondered if they deserved to be bullied, which was quite shocking. Others struggled to address it because they were afraid that they would make the bullying worse. Many spoke about their loss of confidence and feelings of powerlessness. We wanted to explore all these issues in a safe space, where everyone’s voice had a chance to be heard.
We are currently rolling out the first course and I am pleased to report that it is going extremely well. If anyone would like further information, please contact head office at email@example.com or the Irish office at firstname.lastname@example.org
Studio 3 Think Tank at Folly Farm
The Studio 3 Ireland clinical and training teams had the opportunity to meet up with our UK and Swedish colleagues at the annual Studio 3 Clinical and Training event in March of this year. It was really nice to be able to mix with our colleagues again after the isolation of the Covid years.
Studio 3 took over an old Farmhouse in the hills outside Bristol. It was the perfect place, and the perfect opportunity to regroup and plan ahead after years of working in bedrooms, sitting rooms and, in my case, my ‘posh’ garden shed. We spent a very productive three days reviewing where we are now in Studio 3, and where we want to be in a few years’ time. We have lots of plans – so watch this space.
We worked hard, but we also relaxed hard too. A bottle or two of Rhubarb and Ginger gin was consumed, as were several bottles of wine and assorted spirits. Andy and Denise, who are great fans of board and party games, brought a selection from home. I am still trying to figure out the rules of one particular game that remains a complete mystery. Andy and Denise’s Christmas parties are legendary for pitting Studio 3 teams against each other, in ‘dog-eat-dog’ competitions.
While the farmhouse itself was lovely, the surrounding countryside was beautiful, and gave us lots of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors. It was lovely to wake up in the morning to a field of sheep grazing, or lambs playing on the hills. There were lovely walks in the woods too which is just what we needed after a tough day plotting and planning. I am reliably informed that it has been booked again for next year, and I can't think of a better place to get us all together again!
The Friends of Studio 3 WhatsApp Group
Studio 3 Ireland have a WhatsApp group called ‘Friends of Studio 3’. We share links to research, information articles, links to free webinars, suggestions for books, and anything else of interest to people who share the same ethos as ourselves. If anyone out there would like to join, please text your name, organisation, and phone number to 087-2494001 and I will add you to the list.
Written by Mary Maher,
Studio 3 Clinical Services