At Seashell Trust, we firmly believe that all young people have the right to make decisions. Our students develop the expectation that they will be in control of experiences in their lives as much as possible.
When we talk about 'decision making', we may automatically think of the big decisions we have to make - like decisions about medical treatment or transition. But everyone makes decisions about their lives on a daily basis, whether that is choosing what to wear, asking for a drink or what to do with their time, and the Mental Capacity Act (the principles of which underpin Royal College Manchester's ethos of informed decision-making) highlights both the significant and routine decisions we all make. Simply showing which leisure activities you prefer can inform those larger decisions - for example, someone might struggle to answer a more complex question like "Which services do you want to access in the future?" but know that meeting people their own age or spending time outdoors is important to them. In that case, they know that those opportunities are an important part of the life they want to lead - and that the decision should take this into account.
When planning the school's vocational 'Taster Days', students share what they would like to do and staff consider their individual needs, interests and preferences, asking their family members and friends as well. This can spark great ideas for future work experience - one young man who enjoys 'sorting' activities was able to sort through plastic bottles, cardboard boxes and drink cans as he learned about recycling jobs, and another who enjoyed working with his hands learned about bike maintenance. For others, trying something new is a great opportunity to think about what skills they would like to learn.
In college, resources like the What's Important To Me? posters help students discuss their plans for life after college. Our students typically use a mix of different ways to communicate, often using some combination of speech, sign language, facial expression, symbols and photographs to make themselves understood. A similar process can be used for other decisions with multiple parts - students from our Athletics session were supported to think about what competing in the Manchester 10K and Liverpool triathlon would mean by using a slideshow. Staff went through the slideshow and asked simple questions to make that each student understood what the event was about and what they would have to do to train for it before asking them whether or not they wanted to compete. (Team Gladiator, as the athletes were nicknamed, did brilliantly, and many of their family members were thrilled to see them compete!)
Although most of our students come to Seashell with limited functional communication, they might express themselves in other ways. Smiling and making excited sounds can be a way of showing that they like an activity; young people might shout, cry or push things away to show that they don't like them. Even hitting someone or hurting yourself can, for people with no better way of expressing that there's a problem, be an example of communication - indeed, we find that by helping our students develop their functional communication skills so that they have more effective ways to demonstrate when they are unhappy, anxious or otherwise need something, they are less likely to fall back on challenging behaviours like hitting, kicking or self-injury. The message of 'I don't like this!' can be quite clear even when it isn't spoken or signed - and it's no less important than the same sentiment expressed verbally when making decisions.
To learn more about the Mental Capacity Act, find an Easy Read copy here or read the Preparing for Adulthood factsheet on Mental Capacity and Decision Making. Royal College Manchester's work on developing decision-making skills was highlighted in an Ofsted good practice case study report, as was our strategies for developing active communication skills.