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Learning Disability Week: Dawn

As we draw to the close of Learning Disability Week we visit the team in Oxfordshire to hear about our Learning Disability Specialist and GLADS Team Leader, Dawn McCall who has worked with Guideposts for 13 years. 

Following an early career in childcare, where Dawn worked as a nanny, she quickly realised that it wasn’t rewarding to her. She spoke to the agency that had employed her and chatted about the kind of roles that would be suitable for someone who really enjoys feeling helpful, worthwhile and making a difference to a child’s life. 

Dawn was invited on a trip to a SEND school (Special Educational Needs and Disability), to meet with the staff and get a feel for working with children with more specialised needs. 

Dawn recalls that first day, where a young boy with Down Syndrome played on the floor, spinning around like a top and another boy sat on the floor happily chewing on a plimsole. “It was strange. I instantly knew yes, this is what I want. This is where I want to work. Because the children saw me, for who I am. They didn’t care if my hair wasn’t quite right, they didn’t care if I was wearing fashionable clothes. They just needed care and understanding. Of course, it wasn’t easy, but I loved it straight away.” 

Working with Guideposts

Over her 13 years with Guideposts Dawn has expanded her professional skills, and now works full-time at GLADS – our day service that supports adults with learning disability and autism and adults with complex needs. 

Her expertise and dedication have led her to the Team Leader position, where she not only helps to support our members but is also responsible for ensuring excellent standards are met through policy, procedures and helping the brilliant support staff and volunteers working within the service. 

Dawn loves her work. She loves to help our members learn and develop, as well as supporting their families to continue the individual’s achievements at home. It may be something as simple as a member peeling and eating a banana for the first time. Telling the families and carers about it and encouraging them to repeat it at home, means the skill is developed holistically, and all their support network are able to be part of the development and success. 

“It’s wonderful when a family tells us that a member has asked to cook the meal in the evening after they learned a recipe with us at GLADS. It’s so encouraging to learn that families help us to support our members by continuing to help them practice what they learn with us,” said Dawn.

A Great Team

Dawn is passionate about the holistic approach to developing skills and learning techniques and loves to train up new staff members, ‘I have a great team around me. They show so much empathy towards our members and are caring in the extreme.”

Ryan is the newest support at GLADS, ‘He has a natural empathy that I think he isn’t even aware of yet. He has that wonderful ability of being able to treat everybody the same. When he plays Xbox with the boys it is like watching him as he would be with his own friends, to Ryan they are lads playing together. It’s difficult to attract men into this type of work, and we need more so it’s great that we have Ryan on board.  The boys in the group really relate to him.”

Chatting and Phone Calls

It is always a busy week working in GLADS with lots of activities, education and trips out and about. But Dawn’s favourite part of the day is when they all sit down at lunch and have time to chat about what everyone has been doing outside of sessions, and their family life. 

Through chatting with members, she adds in an additional level of safeguarding and understanding. It is a simple approach but is one of the best ways understanding the wellbeing of the GLADS community. 

Her ability to be open and have honest and direct conversations with clients and their families helps to create a culture of trust. This has proved very beneficial during lockdown where Dawn has been calling members and their families consistently.

Some have told us that this has been the only external contact that they have had from organisations during the crisi.: “I am so grateful for Dawn’s calls each week. I haven’t had a call from my social worker yet, and its been four weeks since lockdown started,” Said one member’s father. 


Dawn has achieved many successes over the years. One of Dawn’s most memorable achievements came from taking part in an activity she absolutely dislikes, swimming. One GLADS member had become scared of swimming, with no explanation as to why. So Dawn set herself the challenge of helping this young man to get back into the pool to enjoy swimming again. Over a three-month period Dawn was able to work with him in the small pool to gain confidence in the water and re-learn those lost skills. He is now happily swimming in the big pool! 

Dawn finds lots of satisfaction from her job, and finds it rewarding to know that she has helped people throughout her working day. But if there is one thing that Dawn would like to change in the world of learning disabilities, it would be to give the wider world a better understanding of them and encourage more people to learn about people living with challenging conditions and behaviours, “Most people have no understanding of LD. It’s too easy for them to walk away. I would like more people to just try. To try to communicate if they can and treat them as you would want to be treated – with dignity.”

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