Joel’s P.A.T.H to a meaningful life

Joel has been on a remarkable journey of self-discovery since he undertook a PATH (Planning Alternative Tomorrows with Hope) with ConneXu last year.

Being non-verbal, severely autistic, deaf and with limited communication, life for Joel and his supportive family hasn’t always been easy.

In fact, managing the dynamic of Joel reacting physically to situations he was not comfortable with, meant obvious limitations to how his whole life was approached; including his choice of activities, contact with the wider community, resultant relationships with others, and opportunities for developing life skills.

However, he is now enjoying a life filled with activities that those closest to him would not have thought possible less than a year ago.

The PATH has led him to a world full of opportunities, rather than one of limitations.

A planning tool, PATH uses visual mapping and drawings to help people visualise and achieve their dreams through a series of goals and achievable steps. Through this process, Joel, his supportive parents Kevin and Karen, and the ConneXu team, were able to identify areas of particular interest for him. The priority is looking at the individual and his self-determined, rather than perceived, needs.

Obviously, communication for Joel can be challenging, but ConneXu work beyond traditional means of communication to make sure that an individual’s view is gained. They use visual aids, such as pictures of different activities to communicate opportunities to individuals who have trouble with verbal discussion.

Through this process, and with either a thumbs up or down from Joel, the group found out that he had a desire to push himself physically and try more adrenalin inducing activities.

The ConneXu support team then worked on how to make these activities happen from logistics and safety perspectives.

The first sign that this process of communication works is when the ConneXu van stops outside the swimming pools and Joel, who can’t wait to get out, runs to the entrance the moment he is out of the van.

Swimming, which he does twice a week, is an activity he truly enjoys. He loves the supportive feeling of the water pressure when he dives deep under the water – and spends much of his time at the pools holding his breath under the water, looking up at the surface above him, like many of us have – up to a different world.

It is obvious that water brings Joel joy. So, to make swimming safe and, indeed, possible for Joel, this was critical.

To make this activity a reality for him, two Community Facilitators are with Joel at all times – one in the water, and one on pool-side. That way, if Joel decides to get out of the pool and run, he is safely met by someone he knows.

Like many people with severe autism his sensory perception is keen. He is fascinated by moving water – the sensations of it – how it feels as he touches it, and he moves through it. This is also evidenced in the time he spends under the sprinklers at the pools – feeling the water as it cascades down his arms, and watching as it falls in sparkling rivulets around him.

He also loves the hydra slide, and can often be seen enjoying repeated circuits; up the stairs, down the slide, and back up the stairs again.

Routine is an important tool for most of us in our daily lives for stability – but particularly more so with those who have severe autism like Joel.

When it is time to get out of the pool, Joel jumps out with enthusiasm, because he knows that he can pick a treat out of the vending machine.

It is both an accepted and expected part of swimming for him, meaning that finishing his session is easier for both him and his support team.

As well as swimming, Joel’s PATH has led him to enjoying trampolining at Leap in Hamilton, cycling on his trike at Wheels in Motion, climbing walls at the Extreme Edge, playing air hockey and games on the X-Box, and enjoying playgrounds around the community.

These activities have really opened up Joel’s connection and interaction with the local community, which was not previously considered, or even seen as possible.

Joel is also a talented and imaginative artist in his own right, working on canvas in bright colours.

One of his works is displayed proudly on his bedroom wall, admired by visitors and loved by his supporters. His works communicate his experience of his expanding world vividly, in fascinating shapes.

Also proudly displayed in his room alongside his artwork is Joel’s PATH. Featured prominently on here – and about to become a reality – is his big goal: to have a holiday on a tropical island.

Joel, accompanied by his family and two of his Community Facilitators are heading over to Vanuatu in May to celebrate his 21st birthday.

There has been a lot of planning for this trip, and not only are Joel and his family counting down the days – there are two very excited Community Facilitators who are also very keen to ensure that this holiday is the best that it can be for Joel.

Graphically showing Joel’s chosen pathway to a more fulfilling life, his PATH both promotes confidence as it reminds him of what he has already achieved, and motivates as it shows him, and his supporters, what else, like the holiday, is possible.

Words by Blue Chilli