When you come to Giant Steps, it often takes a few days to get your key.

Systems are like keys

In the meantime staff will ask others they see and along the way meet their new colleagues, as they get locked behind doors and gates – all those marvellous experiences as they learn about their new working space.

When they do get a key suddenly the staff member feels a growing sense of belonging, they become independent, moving around the space knowing that it is accessible at all times. Keys become like gold.

When keys are lost or misplaced for a day there is a frustration, however staff can usually get a replacement from admin or indeed borrow a key from a colleague. A minor mishap but no real, long lasting effect.

If the boss decides on a whim to remove all the keys and only have one key per program, limiting access to the keys (say, for some security reason) there may be an initial acceptance, however frustration soon sets in at the lack of independence to move about, of limited access to the spaces. Staff may feel that they are now reliant on other people and so frustrated. The person in charge of the only key may start to set boundaries on when, how and where it can be used and these boundaries may be at odds with the staff member. Staff may find alternatives – jump the fence if they cannot get out, break a door in frustration, get a copy of the key made or perhaps just resign due to an ineffective work environment and give up as their freedom is impinged.

Keys are an absolute necessity for the adults at Giant Steps, having one yourself so that you can access everything when you need to is fundamental – in fact it’s so familiar to use that we often just don’t think about it.

For students, where they have poor communication skills, expressive communication systems are like keys – sure they may not be sophisticated, they may need to be stored and carried differently, it may take the child a long while to learn how to generalize its use and they may get it wrong at times, they may even ask for the impossible. BUT it is like a key to independence, to self-determination and along the way there will be times when the unexpected occurs. Having a voice is not our choice, it’s their right.

Kerrie Nelson
Giant Steps Sydney
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