People with intellectual disabilities have the right to make decisions.
They are also entitled to receive formal and informal support varying in type and intensity according to their needs.
All forms of supports must respect the rights and the will and preferences of people with intellectual disabilities.
Many forms of support which can assist people with disabilities in exercising their legal capacity exists and have been progressively recognised: advocacy, self-advocacy, assistance in communication and, of course, peer support.
This is why the TOPSIDE project had been an innovative process aiming at creating a training opportunity for peer supporters.
About TOPSIDE training
The TOPSIDE curriculum aimed to enable people with intellectual disabilities to train and provide support to their peers. It had been developed as an inclusive curriculum to allow everyone to participate in the training. And it had been developed with the idea that support is a natural process between people. We all provided and received informal support and this, in all areas of life and within different types of relationships.
The objective had been to create a flexible tool, to allow the trainers to use these materials as they fit best to the needs and ambitions of the training course participants and respect the different abilities and rhythms of people with intellectual disabilities.
Skills that the peer supporter learnt included how to improve their communication, how to support someone appropriately and how to empathise with others.
The peer supporter learnt to relate their own life experiences to peer support and use these examples and their own learning to support others.
The training also looked at different values that the peer supporter can adopt: inclusion, person-centred thinking, valued social roles and citizenship in your own community.
The objective was to prepare people with intellectual disabilities to gain the following attitudes, competencies and skills to become peer supporter:
- Ability to develop relationships
- Respect for the person and his/her environment
- Open attitude/ not judging someone
- Respect decisions
- Avoid manipulation
- Knowing the status of the peer supporter: „not showing off“ not imposing
- Acting as a „guest“ in the life of the person with disability
- Ability to relate different experiences
- Trustworthy (understands confidentiality, privacy…)
- Inclusive attitude
People with intellectual disabilities learnt in a real life environment and they acted as peer supporter to understand and take over their role as peer supporter. Therefore, a clear plan for the peer supporters needed to be defined before the training course and announced to the trainees. It was a basic foundation to use and work with this curriculum.
In order to use the training material in the most effective way, you learnt how to work with a co-trainer with intellectual disabilities. He or she played a key role in the development and adaptation of the training in partnership with the trainer and advised them on its relevance for the group of people they were working with.
The Curriculum development
The curriculum development process had taken a very important part of the project, as the curriculum had been tested over a period of 6 months for more than 40 hours in each of the six project countries: the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands, Romania, Scotland and Spain.
A European team of trainers and co-trainers with intellectual disabilities had worked together over two years to developed the curriculum and realised the project activities.
The countries represented in the partnership covered different regions of Europe, which have a different history and offer very different types of support for people with intellectual disabilities. The peer review process within the partnership had been very stimulating.
One key document, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been guiding the work of all the partners.
At a methodological level, the partners first had clarified the role of the peer supporter and had fixed boundaries. Once the “profile” of the peer supporter had been defined, partners shared concrete methods of work and exercises they used to train the new peer supporters. Thanks to a series of meeting, they had also share good practices and solutions when working with people with disabilities as trainers. And finally they all had kept records of their own national development and lessons learned. All this material had been collected and compiled to form the TOPSIDE training.
The Quality Team composed of several independent experts supported this process by questioning and reflecting on our work. Their critical views had been very useful in keeping track of our achievements and our weaknesses.
The Role of the Peer supporter
The peer supporter learnt how to improve their communication, how to support someone appropriately and how to empathise with others. The peer supporter learnt to relate their own life experiences to peer support and use these examples and their own learning to support others. The training also looked at different values that the peer supporter could adopt: inclusion, person-centred thinking, good life, valued roles and citizenship in your own community.
Peers could support people who do not see these opportunities for themselves. Peers could open eyes to what was possible and brought new possibilities in the life of the peers.
A skill-based curriculum
The training had been shaped in such a way that all skills outlined in the curriculum were anchored and trained in real life situation. Skills were progressively acquired and strengthened under each topic, as described in the trainers guidelines.
The skills could be divided into 3 categories
- Peer to Peer Skills: it was about communication, reaction and empathy in a face to face or group exchange.
- Inclusive Values/Skills: it was about inclusion, person centred thinking, valued social roles, being a citizen in your community
- Pragmatic skills: it is about relating experiences from different areas of life and quality of life in relation to inclusion: home, rights, work, etc. By adding this knowledge to the skilwas, peer supporters were able to support others
The following graph shows the three categories of skills: