Practice Innovation and Employment: The Case of Cafe Kudos
Alastair Clarkson, Researcher in Residence, Scottish Autism
Despite a growth in public awareness of autism, misinformation and myths about autism are still common. One frequent misconception is that people with autism lack the abilities and social skills required for the demands of the workplace. This contrasts with Scottish Autism’s ‘capacity view’ which focuses on the skills, strengths and abilities that autistic people have. For example, a very good attention to detail and tendency to stick to routines and timetables can make people on the spectrum highly punctual, accurate and reliable employees. Autistic people may also excel at understanding rule based systems and protocols and show excellent memory and recall. However a lack of awareness of these skills among employers, combined with limited opportunities for people on the spectrum, results in significantly lower rates of employment for autistic people.
The process of developing and fostering employment skills can be complex and challenging, requiring new ways of working. Such “practice innovation” has always taken place in Scottish Autism, as services and staff adapt to changes in need. The Centre for Practice Innovation (CPI) now provides a hub for the sharing of novel, good practice throughout Scottish Autism – for example we are training support staff to carry out research to capture and share ways of working. But what does ‘practice innovation’ look like and how does it occur within our services? This article considers one example which illustrates this key concept in relation to employment.
Practice innovation in Cafe Kudos – a social enterprise project.
Practice innovation started here as a reaction to an ideal – in 2004 local managers and staff in our south west services drew inspiration from a growing agenda for inclusion and developed a vision to place work opportunity and independent living firmly at the heart of service users’ lives. Researching local vocational opportunities, they developed a plan for independent living services to link with the design of a new vocational opportunity.
This service became Cafe Kudos, which opened in 2004 to provide training for work within a ‘not for profit’ community enterprise scheme. Managed by a small,
specialist team of staff, the cafe enables service users to safely develop their skills and confidence in a working business. Cafe Kudos is operated by a kitchen co-ordinator, a Cafe assistant and two support workers employed by Scottish Autism. Currently 9 service users attend and work on different days.
To create opportunities at Kudos that work for each service user requires assessment and adaptation. As with other services, this means having a personalised programme of support to provide consistency and structure for each individual. As Cafe Kudos is a unique service, staff and management were required to apply their knowledge of autism to this new setting and needed to develop innovative techniques to meet the variety of challenges that autistic staff faced in this complex business environment.
Here, adaptation has been key to success. Use of visual menus and customer order forms tailored to each service user means their specific learning and communication style is accommodated when serving the public. Staff are trained to provide support that lowers stress levels and helps to manage anxiety.
Monitoring service user progress is vital in making task transitions and learning within the work environment happen as smoothly as possible.
Social stories and visual aids help staff clarify key expectations and learning points. Setting realistic targets and regular reviews with support staff, ensures each individual working in the cafe can safely build on their level of confidence and develop at their own pace.
Accessing work experience in a safe environment teaches valuable practical skills which can enhance the self-esteem of service users, as they see first-hand the value of their work. Whilst the opportunity to learn new skills and train for work in a real business environment means access to qualifications in Food Preparation and Cookery or Food and Drink Service, being included in the local community in a meaningful way also appears to matter a great deal to staff. Ewan Dunn started working in Cafe Kudos nine years ago just after it first opened: “I really enjoy feeling part of the community. I like socialising with the staff, customers and my peers. I have developed many skills working in the cafe such as money handling, food preparation, shopping, baking and customer service.”
When visiting the cafe, I was struck by the enthusiasm of the staff. Employees were positive and took great pride in their work. When speaking to local residents in the Cafe, admiration for the autistic staff was a common theme. Parents have also shared in the benefits provided by the Cafe, as the skills and self confidence gained within this environment appear to transfer to other settings. Lesley, mother of Donald, who receives support at Kudos spoke about the positive impact: “The work of the staff there has enabled our son to cope with travelling to London by train for his twentieth birthday, with his dad and me, to stay overnight, sightsee and go on the Tube! We are so proud of what he has achieved and for the input of the staff in Lanark.”
For management who have steered this project from its origins, the value of the service is more than clear – Gillian Smith, Service Manager at Cafe Kudos spoke recently at the 10th anniversary of the service. “Over the years we have supported many individuals, offering them the opportunity to develop their skills and confidence. Watching many of them grow and build their self-esteem has been a hugely rewarding experience. The cafe has become an important part of the local community and we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported us.”
The Value of Practice Innovation
Practice innovation embodied in Cafe Kudos has enabled development of communication support strategies; vocational skills and qualifications and has fostered self advocacy and independence. The cafe has created bonds with local residents, community groups and charities, – people who have experienced the valuable contribution that individuals on the autism spectrum can make in their local community.
Services such as Cafe Kudos demonstrate to others that our service users have a valuable contribution to make to society. This makes real a belief that people
with an autism spectrum condition should enjoy the same opportunities and experiences as others do, in order to enable them to lead happy and fulfilled lives. The innovation in practice highlighted here started from small beginnings – an awareness of what needs to change for the better, the sharing of this idea with others, and a program of work directed with passion and commitment to make these ideas a reality.
Resources and Links
Scottish Government, S.A.H. (2014). The Scottish Strategy for Autism Progress Report – Foundation Stage (2 Years) (Scottish Government, St. Andrew’s House, Regent Road, Edinburgh EH1 3DG Tel: 0131 556 8400 email@example.com).