One of our roles at Foundations is to support and share good practice with those involved in the Disabled Facilities Grant (DFG) process. Our online practitioner’s network meetings provide a space for practitioners to come together and, through lively debate, discussion, and the sharing of good practice, seek answers to the real-world challenges and questions that help us deliver the DFG better. And the value of these meetings was demonstrated by the Occupational Therapy Practitioner meeting on the 30th of November 2021.

This meeting continued the theme Foundations covered in November around the DFG and designing for those with behaviours that challenge. The meeting kicked off with Corrina Laurie from the National Autistic Society and Tracey Adams from Inclusion me, reminding us of a poorly designed home environment’s devasting impact on individuals with autism or other sensory challenges. Also, that challenging behaviour is the person’s way of communicating and self-managing their distress in response to that environment. Towards the end of the first part of the meeting, Corrina and Tracey explored the occupational therapist’s role in assessing the environment and then supporting the design of adaptations. This was a positive reminder of the difference we can make for individuals and their families when we work with our technical officer and surveyor colleagues to design adaptations that improve the environment.

In the second part of the meeting, the attendees separated into three smaller groups. In these groups, the OTs got to debate and discuss real-world scenarios from Tracey’s previous caseload. Although each group discussed a different scenario, similarities existed in terms of the issues and challenges of assessing and providing adaptations for individuals with autism or behaviours that challenge. The three learning points I gained from the feedback were:

Learning point 1: Where an individual has complex and challenging behaviour, access to specialist advice in the assessment process is critical in identifying the ‘right’ adaptations.

However, in some authorities accessing this specialist knowledge can be challenging and delay the assessment process. Interestingly, a number of those attending reported particular difficulties accessing advice for those individuals who do not have a dual diagnosis of autism and learning disability.

Learning point 2: There are challenges in interpreting the needs of the individual with the purposes of the grant.

While the legislation clearly states the purposes for which a grant can be awarded, participants report that it is not always easy to communicate how these apply to individuals with autism and behaviours that challenge. To overcome this, attendees report the importance of working closely with technical officers and surveyors to help them understand how particular adaptations can facilitate access to essential rooms or make the dwelling safer for those with needs associated with challenging behaviour needs.

Learning Point 3: Good outcomes are achieved where the Regulatory Reform Order has been used to develop effective housing assistance policies.

From our discussions, occupational therapists working in areas with a housing assistance policy report, they and their technical officer colleagues can achieve better solutions now that the policy was is in place. Although each local authority’s policy is different, the two main benefits reported is the discretion to fund adaptations over £30K and funding solutions that are not ‘traditional’ considered adaptations such as assistive technology and ‘safe spaces’.

For those unable to attend the session, a copy of the presentation can be viewed using this link: National Autistic Society Training OT slides.

Dates for the upcoming 2022 Practitioner Network Meetings can be found on the upcoming events page. If you have a topic an idea you would like to discuss at a meeting, then please contact me at [email protected]