Using Ketso Connect to engage with adults on the autistic spectrum
When usual activities were not possible, with lockdown restrictions, Ketso Connect was used to enable adults on the autistic spectrum to meet, socially distanced and in an outdoor space.
Lucy Sheppard Fidler is the Lead Trainer on a Building Better Opportunities project at the Shropshire Autism Hub, run by the charity A4U, and jointly funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery Community Fund. She works with adults on the autistic spectrum, running small group training courses which aim to increase confidence and support participants to move towards greater social engagement and employment.
What we did
With the lockdown restrictions put in place in March 2020, the usual activities of the project were not possible. Lucy and her colleagues were keen to find ways to continue to support their participants during lockdown, especially as many were experiencing increased anxiety due to the sudden withdrawal of support from social care, education and mental health services. As part of her response to this challenge, Lucy used Ketso Connect to run a socially distanced meeting in an outdoor space for some of her students.
Ketso is a hands-on toolkit which has been used by hundreds of organisations for planning, educating and learning, in countries around the world, for more than 20 years. It is a portable kit that can be laid out on a table at group meetings and in workshops. Participants are asked key questions and write their ideas on specially made 'leaves', before placing them on a central felt to create clusters of ideas.
In response to the pandemic Ketso has been adapted to work in remote, online, physically distanced and hybrid settings. The adapted kit is known as Ketso Connect, a new mini-kit, which is especially useful for teaching and learning, as each member has their own Ketso Connect. These are compact enough to be sent by post and used in small workspaces. In a workshop or teaching session each person uses the kit to develop their ideas before sharing them with the group (which can be via video link). They can move the leaves around to create links and highlight key ideas with small ‘icons’. Both kits are washable and reusable.
The aim of the session was to explore how participants had experienced lockdown – positive and negative aspects of the experience, along with what they had missed. They were also encouraged to discuss what they wanted the new normal to look like, both in terms of the Hub, and more widely in life. The desired outcomes of the session were to have shared their experiences with others and received peer support, and to have started to think about how they want the future to look.
In order for the Ketso session to work effectively for this group of individuals it was important that the participants had an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the kit and how it worked before starting the session. All teaching is provided in a way which supports neurodiverse learning styles. Information is shared in a clear and concise manner and instructions given one step at a time. This approach is supported by the tactile Ketso kit, with different coloured elements for different stages.
To meet the health and safety requirements of engagement during the pandemic, the tables had been cleaned with anti-bacterial spray immediately before the session began. All participants were asked if anyone in their household had COVID symptoms. They were socially distanced within the session space and everyone was given their own Ketso Connect, consisting of felt workspaces, Ketso 'leaves' and water-based pens.
Considerable time was dedicated to finding an appropriate outdoor space which allowed for sufficient social distancing and was also a space where confidentiality could be upheld. For many participants part of the risk assessment was to consider how continuing isolation was affecting their mental health.
The organisation has now purchased a gazebo which has been erected in the internal courtyard to give a secure private outdoor space.
What worked well
The visual, tactile nature of the Ketso Connect kit helped to focus ideas and provoke discussion. Writing on Ketso leaves allowed the participants to easily change or reposition their ideas, which helped to alleviate feelings of anxiety about sharing or making mistakes. They found working with the kits visually engaging, and told us that having the discussion captured in photographs was useful, giving them something to refer to after the session.
Ketso has an integral structure and set of rules which students can easily learn and follow. Having things presented in bite-sized pieces made engagement with the discussion easier for those participants who tend to be intimidated by worksheets or large bits of text. The different colours of leaves allows flexibility as they can be used to represent different questions, types of ideas, or stages of a process.
One student was unable to attend the session in person due to people in his household shielding. Lucy was able to ensure his participation via video chat, by scribing his ideas on Ketso leaves for him. Being able to see his contributions on the workspace enabled him to engage fully with the session. He suggested that it would be good to continue to offer this hybrid approach once face-to-face meetings are reintroduced, as a way of encouraging participation from students who cannot access services due to anxiety or physical restrictions.
Providing the session outside also facilitated a more relaxed, informal session. It stimulated different conversations and lowered anxiety levels about leaving the house. Many participants were experiencing high levels of anxiety about re–engaging with social interactions in general, due to social anxiety, which was then exacerbated by their concerns about COVID. Having the session outside meant that the COVID concerns were lessened and also they did not have to cope with going into a building where all of their normal routines would be changed. For many people the unknown is very anxiety provoking so not knowing the new rules of going into a building would be stressful.
Once the session was over and the participants' ideas had been photographed, the kits were easily washed, ready for reuse.
Since this initial session Lucy has used the Ketso Connect kits many times. During the second lockdown she delivered a number of kits out to participants who were shielding following new government guidelines. She ran blended sessions, with some participants physically present and some on Zoom. The blended sessions have worked well because all the participants are working with the exact same resources and clear instructions can be given, for example you can say, "We are now using the green leaves." At the end of the session, each participant photographed their work and emailed it to Lead Trainer.
All distance learning presents a different set of challenges. The main challenge was getting all the participants in the same place at the same time and maintaining focus. As teaching kinaesthetically (hands on/ doing learning) is the most effective method with autistic people, it is challenging not to be in the same room and therefore not being able to physically show someone what to do.
Lucy Sheppard Fidler (Lead Trainer, Shropshire Autism Hub, A4U)
Logos courtesy of Shropshire Autism Hub, A4U and Ketso