Active Support encompasses a range of approaches which aim to provide enough help to enable people to participate successfully in meaningful activities and relationships. This means supported people gain more control over their lives, develop more independence and become more included and valued members 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. Several studies have shown Active Support helps to improve the quality of life of people with learning disabilities (Mansell and Beadle-Brown, 2012), and in particular it increases 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 who display 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 the activity or interaction they’re engaged in.
There are 4 essential components which promote engagement in activities and relationships:
- Every moment has potential:Look at activities that need to be done—such as shopping or gardening—and those that could be done—such as visiting friends or playing sport—as opportunities for supported people to be engaged throughout the day. These activities are often done independently by staff, with supported people only involved as spectators, if they are present at all. Active Support encourages the opposite 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living, even (or particularly) when the presence of challenging behaviour might result in such opportunities being withdrawn.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 should 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 independent development; 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 independence and control. Frequently responding to preferences with this in mind increases the likelihood that the person will learn that making choices makes sense, and will make more of them.