A day in the life of an Enabler at Henshaws Specialist College

Kirsty works with students as an enabler here at Henshaws Specialist College. Here she tells us what it's been like working at college through the coronavirus pandemic

Meet Kirsty

I’m an “enabler” at Henshaws Specialist College, working with the sensory students in Ribble House. Initially I was supporting the students one-to-one to attend lessons and ensure they were getting the most out of their time at college. This meant working hands-on developing their skills. Using switches to control various piece of equipment, encouraging them to participate in different activities. This can include gardening, sensory cooking (where they would explore the ingredients using touch and smell)  music, sport, swimming, art etc. I would also assist them with any personal care they needed. Supporting them with eating and drinking, or feeding via tube, and administering their medication.

My role changed slightly at the beginning of this year. I was no longer partnered with a student each day and instead was free to support the other enablers. This meant having to be a lot more organised and planning ahead for the day. Ensuring everyone could take their lunch break when we had correct cover, assisting with personal care for most of the students as and when required. Also being responsible for signing in and out medication, and taking on more administrative duties.

Student and staff at the Potting Shed

The impact of lockdown

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit I was working from home to begin with. This meant lots of online reading, policies and procedures and some virtual meetings with the rest of the Ribble team. I returned to work at college for just one or two days a week after the Easter break.

I was then back with another enabler supporting a student two-to-one. Due to the complexity of their needs we felt we needed to have two people with them each day. This allowed us to take breaks and assist with personal care etc so that was something new to get used to.

Dealing with lots of changes

Thankfully all of the team are fantastic and we quickly worked out how best to support the student and complete all the necessary paperwork without being overbearing and getting in each other’s way! On one of the days we cannot access the building we would usually be in, so we’ve had to adapt how we work with that student. Where to go for lunch as she wouldn’t normally eat in the dining hall, where she can rest if required as she is sometimes very tired by the afternoon. Also where and how to carry out personal care without the use of the rooms we would normally be in.

It was quite stressful to begin with as we didn’t know how the students would react to the changes. We were also working in very close proximity to each other. It is almost impossible to social distance whilst supporting these students. They require a lot of close intensive interaction. Some of them have visual impairments and can only see a short distance so we spend the majority of the time sitting next to them, walking hand-in-hand, or communicating within their visual field. I really had to get over the urge to move back.

Introducing PPE

Just as we all got into a new routine then the wearing of PPE was introduced. It has made everything all the more difficult. Whilst it should make us feel “safer” it has added a new level of stress! Ensuring we are wearing the correct equipment and changing it in the right way at the right time is a little worrying.

Then there’s the difficulty of actually wearing it whilst trying to communicate with the students. We have had to adapt quickly. So we can use a lot more hand gestures, Makaton signs, and exaggerated eyes and eyebrows to help get across what we are saying. Making sure we are speaking clearly and concisely and encouraging use of symbols and PECS books that the students have. I have found it to be very draining and am usually exhausted at the end of the shift even though it is a shorter college day than usual.

Supporting our students

However, it is amazing to be able to see some of the students back at college, smiling and joining in different activities. And to know that we have been entrusted with supporting them despite their vulnerabilities at a time like this.

I have seen how resilient and adaptable the students are. How they really have gone beyond expectations in accepting the changes in routine, in staff, in the way we look wearing PPE.

I have learned to try not to anticipate what the students will do. We worried and planned for their reactions to, and possible rejection of us, wearing masks and they just took it in their stride. I feel grateful to be part of such a wonderful team. I’m proud of how we have worked together to make sure our students get the most they can out of their time at college at the moment.

Something to look forward to

There have been a lot of changes over a very short period of time, with many more changes to come. The way that the changes have been passed on to the students has been great. With tailored communication methods to try help them understand what is going on. Advice and support has been available for us from tutors and our care leads.

My advice to anyone else working in education or care would be to try and go with the flow! Take each day as it comes, not dwell too much on what might or might not happen.  And make sure you have something to look forward to at the end of the day, whether that be chocolate or a long soak in the bath, a glass of wine, just anything that you enjoy.

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