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From multiple ATU admissions to independent living – this is Michael’s story

Michael is a young man with autism and an incredible zest for life. The ‘system’ has failed Michael repeatedly – yet within six months of being supported by Dimensions, his extreme challenging behaviour all but disappeared.

Michael’s story starts when he moved out of the family home to attend residential high school for people with learning disabilities and autism.

A first he was happy there, but sixth form proved too challenging for Michael – he wasn’t coping, and spent most of his days hiding away in his room, not eating, and he lost a dangerous amount of weight. This resulted in his first instances of challenging behaviour.

His parents, Rosie and Cliffe, were horrified to see such a shell of the healthy, happy boy they knew and loved. So they made the decision to move him back home, and shortly after to a local supported living provider.

Yet they found that their advice for Michael’s care was dismissed, as though staff knew better than Michael’s own parents.

Michael’s requests were simple. He wanted to live somewhere with “No noisy, shouty people”. Yet the people he lived with were loud and violent and the anxiety he struggled with on a daily basis spiralled out of control.

Once again, he was unable to cope and moved back in with Rosie. And eventually, his behaviour deteriorated so badly that he had to be sectioned and moved to a secure hospital – the first of two he would end up living in.

The specialist care at the ATU had a positive impact, and after some time Michael moved into another supported living service with other young people. They were assured by the provider that it would be a quieter, more suitable environment for Michael.

Yet after just two months, Rosie received a call saying that they couldn’t keep Michael safe anymore. He had been verbally and physically abused by the other tenants. The situation was now getting desperate. Michael again moved back home, but by this stage he was in absolute crisis. Rosie could not cope with his behaviours.

She called the out of hours mental health team for help at 6am one Sunday morning where, incredulously, she was told that there was no ‘one available to help until 9am and that she should go to A&E.’

A&E was a blur. The culmination of years of fighting and inadequate support had led both Michael and his family to this point. He was there for 15 hours and he had to be restrained numerous times throughout the day.

Finally, they were told that a bed had become available – it was in at an ATU in Norfolk, a two hour drive from their home in Essex – but it was all they had.

To top off one of the worst days of their lives, the person who came to collect Michael referred to him as a “package” – but Rosie and Cliffe were so utterly exhausted at that point , they didn’t have any fight left in them to make a fuss.

Progress at the second ATU for Michael was slow. They went to visit him every Sunday. Sometimes, they would make the journey home in tears. There were times when they thought there was no positive recovery, that this was the future for their son.

But amazingly, things did start to improve. Slowly, the “old Michael” started to return. They would see glimmers on visits – the odd smile, the odd joke. And as Michael began to recover, Rosie and Cliffe started to think about where he could live once he was out of the ATU.

This time, they were determined to find a provider who would get things right – the first time. There was simply no room for error. It was in 2016 when Michael’s referral came through to Dimensions.

As Michael can’t cope with knowing about future changes for a long time, there was an incredibly short timeframe involved with the transition. Despite this, the team rose to the challenge. Michael and his parents were involved in every single decision about his support.

Though his living situation in Norfolk posed some geographical issues when it came to recruiting new staff, it was nothing a little creativity couldn’t solve. Potential staff were asked to record a video to be played to Michael, so that he could handpick who would support him.

Our Positive Behaviour Support team worked alongside his team at the ATU to make the transition process as smooth as possible. Our housing team worked hard to source a home for him in Essex, to be in the same area as his family. The whole process was a collaborative effort to create the best situation for Michael moving forward.

On the day of the move, everybody was tense. How would he react? Due to the distance, he had never been able to see his house, though he had seen photos. He was accompanied by his parents, staff from the ATU and was met by some of his new support team and members of the Positive Behaviour Support team.

To everyone’s complete joy, Michael jumped out of the van. He gave everyone a hug and said “I’m going up to my room now”… and things have been improving steadily ever since.

At the time of writing, Michael has been living in his own home for an entire year. His challenging behaviour has all but disappeared. He’s overcome considerable barriers and is once more the happy young man he was before. He’s restarted horse-riding. He’s tried yoga and even cooked his parents a full English. And last winter he was in the local community pantomime – a far cry from the boy who couldn’t leave his room because of the crippling anxiety he faced.

Rosie and Cliffe had been saying all along that Michael’s environment was integral to his health and wellbeing, and it was his environment that acted as the catalyst for his behaviours time and time again.

Families are the experts. By listening to them, and to Michael, Dimensions was able to provide a completely tailored service to suit his needs. He is now in a safe, happy place a few minutes down the road from his family. Finally, he is home.

Michael's achievements

  • Recovery from crisis
  • Picking his support team
  • Overcoming his overwhelming anxiety
  • Independent living near family, after long periods in out-of-area placements
  • Involvement in his new community