Delivering Impact in the Heart of the Community – Working with teenagers with learning disabilities

I was asked to work with 19 year-olds with moderate learning disabilities to support from a local school as part of a National Open College Network Unit at entry level 3 on Developing Skills for a Healthy Lifestyle.

I had never done anything like this before and was a little apprehensive when I first went to the school to meet them all, the unit had 6 learning outcomes and for the 2 young girls I was going to work with I was able to adapt the information to an appropriate level so they would understand. This demonstrates that we can also use the framework to target the appropriate level of intervention required based on the person involved and ensure we ‘start from where the person is’. We went on to follow the assessment criteria over 6 weeks and most of the units were based on healthy living and the benefits.

The first day I delivered an introductory session with all of the students and the teachers to help them understand the Health Trainer role. After delivering this I came away feeling more confident about working with the 2 girls over the forthcoming 6 sessions. In using the framework to map against existing skills of the service provider we can help identify the additional learning required.

During our 1 hour sessions we did many activities such as: discussed foods they liked; engaged in Healthy eating games; developed recipes from food they chose, picking out the healthy ones and our local Food for Fitness team came to deliver a session where the students could prepare and eat some of the healthy options we had talked about.

This was very successful and the team acknowledged that the students had learnt much from our sessions because they were able to identify the various food groups. We also discussed hygiene both personal and when preparing food and work areas, we discussed what exercise they enjoyed and I went out on a local Walk Well with all of the students and teachers.

During one particular session, one of the girls asked for some stop smoking information for her parents to read so I gave her some leaflets to take home. This encouraged both of her parents to give up smoking and in addition, the girl took copies of the broader work home so her parents could support her with the little changes. This supports that the way ‘Making every Contact Count’ can be cascaded from the individual to family and friends and demonstrates the way the Framework can also support this outcome and widen the lifestyle approach that is required.

The implementation led to them all eating more healthily and a positive outcome was that they all began noticing their clothes had become looser, just by making a few changes to their lifestyle.

On one of the units we gave some advice on basic issues of sex education and contraception. This highlighted for me that some members of staff are not as confident when dealing with young people with learning disabilities accessing sexual health services. Mapping the Framework against individual skills will identify where additional knowledge and confidence is needed and help identify what learning is required and needs to be commissioned.

This led me to inform my line manager who called a meeting with members of the Health Promotion team and Managers in Public Health to address the issue. Although there was no immediate solution, there is now a drive to have something developed for this group and it was arranged for a senior nurse from the specialist sexual health team to come along and talk to the students.

Being present during this session, I felt strongly that young people with learning disabilities have the same rights as their non-disabled peers to access sexual health services in an environment that is non judgemental and confidential in nature. This supports the focus of the Framework and the approach of starting where the person is.

The session was a complete success and the students were really receptive to the information they were being given. They asked questions about things that were new to them and they didn’t understand or had already experienced but didn’t understand and felt they could now ask and be given the correct information.

Outcomes

I believe that those students will now have a better knowledge and clearer understanding of STIs, Contraception, Health and Safety, Hygiene and Sexual Health Services that are available to them in their area.

All in all I really enjoyed the experience of working with this group and it highlighted to me how flexible and knowledgeable the Health Trainer Team has become. Health Trainer interventions also meant that information was passed on to family members. The young people themselves started to make healthier choices about eating. When we map this service against the framework it will identify the key skills available and enable us to demonstrate how this knowledge may be transferable to support other difficult to reach groups.

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