Active Support

Active Support encompasses a range of approaches which aim to provide enough help to enable people to participate successfully in meaningful activities and relationships so that they gain more control over their lives, develop more independence and become more included as a valued member of their community irrespective of degree of intellectual disability or presence of challenging behaviour. To achieve this Active Support focuses on the skills of staff in enabling engagement and on the capacity of the service to provide accessible opportunities in a structured and predictable fashion. Active Support has been shown to be important in determining the quality of life of people with learning disabilities (Mansell and Beadle-Brown, 2012), and in particular in increasing people’s participation in daily life, social and community activities as well as increasing people’s skills, adaptive behaviour and choice (McGill & Toogood, 1994; Jones et al, 2001; Stancliffe et al, 2007; Beadle-Brown et al, 2012; Felce et al, 1986; Mansell et al, 2002; Mansell and Beadle-Brown, 2012). Research over many years also indicates that Active Support should be a vital component in the support of people with challenging behaviour (McGill & Toogood, 1994; Jones et al. 2013). The primary outcome of Active Support is engagement in meaningful activities and relationships but the way it looks in practice will vary depending on the individual requirements of the person being supported and the nature of activity or interaction they’re engaged in.

There are 4 essential components which promote engagement in activities and relationships:

Every moment has potential: Utilising the activities that need to be done (such as housework, shopping or gardening) and those that are available to do (such as visiting friends or relatives, playing sport or adult education) as opportunities for supporting people to be engaged throughout the day. These activities are often done by staff, with the people they serve acting only as nonparticipating spectators, if they are present at all. Active Support reverses this condition, so that people are involved in all the activities of daily living, even (or particularly) when the presence of challenging behaviour might result in such opportunities being withdrawn.

Little and often: Thinking about activities and relationships as a series of steps so that staff can identify those parts the person can do for themselves, those that staff can help them with and those that staff will need to do for them in order for the person to experience success. As a result staff can start small, enabling people to dip in and out and providing shorter opportunities for engagement throughout the day rather than solely focusing on single lengthy events.

Graded assistance: Providing the right amount and type of support at the right time – too much and the person will be ‘over-supported’ and hindered in their independence, control and status; too little and they will fail. Staff develop the skills they need to ensure the amount and type of help they provide is constantly adjusted to fit the particular activity, step or circumstance.

Maximising choice and control: Looking for opportunities for the person to express their preferences and be listened to, recognising that choosing within activities and relationships is a valuable opportunity for experiencing choice and control. Frequently responding to preferences this way increases the likelihood that the person will learn that making choices makes sense, and will more of them