Portlaoise, 15 February 2001
The Activity Networking Group in association with the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, held their first national conference in the Montague Hotel, Portlaoise, on 15 February 2001, and it was attended by 120 people. The conference included two guest speakers, five workshops and displays of work activities from day activity centres for persons with severe and profound intellectual disability. The displays included work products, photographs and unit activity profiles, and represented centres at Holy Angels, Glenmaroon, Stewarts Hospital, Cheeverstown, Peamount, Moore Abbey, St Vincent’s Centre and St Hilda’s Services, Athlone.

Chairperson Aideen Byrne (Glenmaroon, Dublin) gave a brief introduction, explaining how she and Colin Griffiths set up the network group in 1997 following the launch of the document A guide to day activities for adults with severe/profound mental handicap. Application forms for membership were included in conference materials.

Sarah Kelly, an occupational therapist currently working as coordinator of the KARE Employment Assist Bureau, spoke about the development of inclusion for people with a disability through the mainstreaming of services. She was the lead person in ‘Project Challenge’, which involved five voluntary agencies in the placement of people with multiple disabilities in gainful employment, with job coaching and assistive technology. Sarah outlined the principles of supported employment and the stages involved. The benefits of supported employment for the person are improved self-esteem, the feeling of dignity and being valued, opportunities for choice, social inclusion, greater opportunity for friendship, increased skills, increased earnings and independence. Sarah showed a video of some of the participants on the Horizon ‘Project Challenge’ and she explained both positive and negative aspects experienced during the project. She emphasised that matching people to jobs is critical, as well as ongoing support for both the employee and the employer.

Brian McClean, coordinator of the Callan Institute for Behavioural Support, spoke about techniques in addressing challenging behaviour. He emphasised two important factors: carers’ individual creativity and collective brainstorming sessions. Important questions to be considered are: How do we react to this behaviour? What other responses can we make to it? How can we adapt the way we react to this behaviour? How can we adapt the environment? What can we teach the individual?

Activity sampling (the logging of information on each activity to learn an individual’s likes and dislikes) can lead to more effective responses. He also highlighted the importance of communication– understanding what people with limited language skills are trying to express–and the difficulties experienced by persons with added sensory impairments in understanding their environment.

Conference participants were able to attend two of the five workshops, which were on shiatsu massage (Brian Flanagan), music (Richard Jackson), sensory gardens (Paul O’Toole), complementary therapies (Patricia O’Neill) and skill base/contributions (Breda Broderick).

Overall, the conference was positive, enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking. Some participants said they would have liked more time to network, or to have been able to attend more of the workshops. For more information on the Activity Network Group, contact the secretary, Paul Rees, St Raphael’s Centre, Youghal, Co. Cork (tel: 024-25636; email: