Inside CQC

Stefan Kallee is CQC’s North West Lead Inspection Manager for learning disabilities and autistic people and he explains why empowering support for autistic people is so important to him.

My mum has worked with people with a learning disability and autistic people since the 1970s. My mum’s view of the world inspired me to start my career in Supported Living, where I specialise in supporting autistic people. She and the people I have had the privilege of supporting and working in partnership with taught me everything I know.

Supporting services to be person centred

Autism impacts on very person uniquely. Describing a service as ‘autism friendly’ doesn’t mean it’s an environment fit for all autistic people. In my view, a person-centred service with knowledgeable, empowering support for autistic people always tailors that support to the individual. Language is so important. It isn’t person centred to define a person through a description of ‘incidents’ or ‘meltdowns’. Person-centred support means recognising that the person is communicating an unmet need. To empower the person, we must understand the person better and understand those needs before they become urgent or overwhelming. Working in partnership with the person means listening to and understanding their communication.

Understanding language

Rather than defining an autistic person by what they can’t do, I recognise every person as a unique individual. Too often, we hear the words ‘they’re non-verbal’ – a one-size-fits-all phrase. I spent my career understanding how those I cared for communicated. How do they let me know what they love and enjoy doing or if they’re scared, hungry or are in pain?

Every person – whether they are autistic or not – is unique. I learnt the unique language of every person I had the privilege to support, whether that was through signing, sounds, words or symbols. I’d always echo back to them that I’d heard in their own language.

Understanding quality of life

I spent time understanding what a good quality of life meant to different individuals. What were their wishes and dreams? My goal was to understand how I could empower that person to develop their own skills in a way they wanted to and that meant something to them, to achieve the quality of life they deserve. To do this, I tried to stand in the shoes of the person and see the world from their point of view. Many autistic people see, hear, taste, smell and experience the world very differently. It’s so important to understand and view the world through their eyes.

Understanding cognitive differences

Something which is sometimes overlooked is an understanding of the unique way an autistic person thinks about the world. We can’t apply our own thinking patterns and expect autistic people we support to be the same. An example could be an autistic person responding to a situation they find frightening. How does the person think through what to do next? Does the person know that there are different choices they can make? What helps the person? Unless we make it explicit that there are different ways to respond, we’re assuming that people know.

Celebrating best practice

As a regulator, we want to enable services for people with a learning disability and autistic people to become more person-centred and tailored to individual needs. We want services to focus on understanding people and supporting them to live good lives, rather than only thinking about how to react in the best way to keep them safe. It starts with understanding what good outcomes look like for people and moving away from restrictive practices and the use of restraint.

I have conversations with individuals who support autistic people and I try to encourage them to look at situations differently. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. I work with inspectors to see where we can help drive improvement and, crucially, identify and celebrate good practice – shining a light on places that keep people safe and empower them to have choice and control.

In our latest report: Home for Good, we share eight case studies of autistic people and people with a learning disability receiving high-quality care in the community. I encourage everyone to listen to the accompanying podcast with Alexis Quin from the Restraint Reduction Network. Alexis describes the labels often given to autistic people and shares the moment one member of staff gave her a reason to hope with the words: ‘You’re not sick, you’re autistic.’

Stefan Kallee is CQC’s North West Lead Inspection Manager for learning disabilities and autistic people. Share your thoughts and views on Stefan’s column.


About Stefan Kallee

Stefan Kallee is CQC’s North West Lead Inspection Manager for learning disabilities and autistic people.

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