It’s the Small Things

Published in December 2021

The Small Things Project seeks to create more opportunities for choice in the daily lives of Northcott Supported Living customers by improving the interactions between customers and frontline staff and by making meaningful positive changes to ‘small things’ within the daily routines of customers.

8 houses have participated in Small Things, involving 41 customers, 16 students, and over 100 frontline staff members. The project places two speech therapy university students in their final year into a Northcott home for 6 weeks. Students observe customers, then identify and trial ‘small things’ that staff can do to provide more opportunities for choice and communication.

Earlier this year (before the Delta outbreak lockdown), two Sydney University Speech Pathology Students, Brigid and Danielle, completed Small Things in Bowral, with the guidance and support from Clinical Educator and Project Coordinator, Thanh. Neither of the students had experience in the disability sector, nor was this a particular field of work they saw themselves going into after graduating. However, from the beginning, the students, staff, and customers worked together to create positive learning relationships.

Here’s what the students had to say:

What was the biggest highlight of completing your placement at Northcott?

How rewarding the entire experience was! It was amazing to see how the resources we developed had an influence on the customers’ lives. By attending the 1:1 outings each week we were able to see how their communication changed throughout our trails with things like community request cards. It was great to see customers enjoying using them and their communication being facilitated, as well as shop assistants being able to better understand the communication from the customers. Disability support workers showing interest and encouragement in these being used was also a great feeling as it showed they too could see the benefits of these resources being used. – Brigid

I think the biggest highlight was realising that I could see myself working in the disability sector in the future. This realisation was quite profound for me as initially I did not have much interest in this area. – Danielle

What was an unexpected learning of this placement?

Looking at the customers’ communication holistically – not just the actual words they can or cannot say but considering all other forms of communication (gestures, sign, facial expression, etc.). I also came to realise that Speech Pathologists don’t ‘teach people with disabilities how to talk better’, rather we take into consideration the customer’s abilities when communicating and facilitate this and help others to understand this communication. – Brigid

I did not expect to be able to adapt to the customers’ methods of communication as much as I did. – Danielle

What did you enjoy the most about this placement?

I surprised myself when developing resources for each customer – I didn’t realise how creative I could be! Plus the fact that each resource needed to be different for each customer, as well as the enormous variety of potential resources that can be made was incredible! I felt like a detective and an artist; I had to figure out what the customer’s needs were whilst also designing and trialling a resource of my own creation. – Brigid

I really enjoyed implementing communication strategies with my clients when out in the community as I was able to see the direct impact they had on their independence. Small things is such a worthwhile experience! I think the customers really benefited from us being there 4 days a week for 6 weeks as this is not typically possible when factors such as funding come into play. – Danielle

Clinical Educator and Project Coordinator, Thanh, was a vital part of ensuring the success of Small Things at Bowral, for staff, students, and most importantly – the customers. We spoke to Thanh about the outcomes for Sarah, Ben, Steve, Mohammed and Angela*. These are some of the fantastic outcomes the students were able to achieve:

  • For Sarah, we created a keychain of personal signs. This will help staff learn her unique signs and positively communicate with her. She also has her own whiteboard where she can write what she will be doing for the day. She also has community requests to purchase her favourite things, such as magazines and puzzles.
  • Ben is now able to make more requests and ask for help using visuals and prompts. He really enjoys Lego, and has a personalised Lego placemat to engage with others during Lego play.
  • Steve is now able to enjoy meals out in the community. The students developed a checklist for his must have meal items to increase his engagement in community meals. He also has his own ordering card, where he puts his choices on a board and hands them to the staff member.
  • Sarah is able to engage in the community by using community requests for buying her favourite things (CDs). She also has a schedule book where staff can go through what she will be doing that day.
  • Carers better understand how long Mohammed needs to process information. He also has an updated tactile line to independently navigate to the bathroom.

NI would like to sincerely thank all of the students, staff, and customers for getting involved in Small Things. We can’t wait to continue to roll out this project in other Northcott accommodation services.

If you would like to know more about the project feel free to send us an email.

*Names of the customers have been changed to protect their privacy.

Related projects