Jean Spain outlines the services and positive feedback for the Communication and Supporting Skills and the Pathways to Possibilities programmes


For many years the Communication and Supporting Skills Programme and The Pathways to Possibilities training courses for parents have been taking place all over Ireland. The courses have been funded by GENIO and administrated by Inclusion Ireland.

The Communication and Supporting Skills programme was originally developed by Gerry Hornby, Ray Murray and Linda Davis. The Pathways to Possibilities course was developed by Julie Simpson, a parent of a person with an intellectual disability. The courses are unique as they are run by parents for parents. Parents who facilitate this course have gained accreditation through attending a course for trainers given in Ireland by psychologist Ray Murray and Julie Simpson.

Communication and Supporting Skills

This programme aims to empower parents and to encourage them to be as effective as possible in their demanding role as parents of a person with a disability. There is no writing necessary for this course which can be off-putting for some parents. The course is based on Robert Bolton’s book entitled People skills. One element in the practical work of the course covers the importance of ‘self-care’—it is often difficult for parents to realise the importance of taking care of themselves, in order to prevent burnout. The other main elements of the course are:
• Stress management as means of reducing stress
• Mutual support for accessing support for self and others
• Networking and learning from other parents
• Listening skills as a means of enhancing relationships (within the family and the service their child attends)
• Assertive skills as a way of claiming rights and having needs met
• Information to ensure awareness and confidence.

Comments from parents who have taken part in the course:
This course has changed my life.
I wish I had done this course years ago.
I have learned so much, this course has opened up totally new concepts of communications to me and has pinpointed a lot of places were I go wrong in communicating with services.
I feel better about myself as I feel I have taken on board problems and blame in the past that I didn’t need to. I will be more prepared for situations in the future.
I really enjoyed the course, I feel stimulated!

Pathways to Possibilities

Pathways to Possibilities is a guided journey towards a desirable future for people with a disability, their families and allies. The idea is for small groups to work together to encourage each other to learn about possible and positive alternatives to change the lives of their person with disabilities. This can be achieved by building a network of connections and sharing experiences with each other. Parents explore ways to plan and begin to take actions towards a better future and the steps along the way to bring dreams to a reality.

The aims of the programme are:
• mapping personal strengths, gifts, capacities and strengths and those of their persons with a disability
• Deciding what works and what doesn’t work for their child
• Developing a range of tools to sustain self-care
• Writing a plan for their child’s future and building networks of support
• Making the journey towards a desirable future for their child

Where possible, the parents attend with an ally/professional to work with them on the Pathways programme. An ally is a professional or community member who supports the parent to move from feelings of resignation or frustration, to actions that move towards more realistic hope.

Some comments from parents who have attended the Pathways to Possibilities programme:
The Pathways to Possibilities change my life and, more importantly, my child’s life.
I made a plan for my daughter, brought it to the staff at my daughter’s service. They were very supportive and went out of their way to make that plan work. This meant that my daughter is no longer bored and loves going to her centre now as she is taking part in drama, art, swimming and a lot more besides.
Planning gives me goals—direction and steps to follow.
It helped me to find who to ask and where to look.
I have gained more confidence to ask for what is needed, or to say when thing’s aren’t right. Services providers are responding to me better. I also know I am a better advocate and feel more empowered.
Thank you all so much for running such a fantastic course, my mind has been working overtime since it ended—how to ensure my daughter has a better life—how to get the help we need. I am so grateful there are people like you in the world to show us parents the way.

For further information on dates/venues or to book a place on the Communication Skills or The Pathways to Possibilities courses, contact Inclusion Ireland, tel: 01-8559891; email: or website: