Happiness and health are possible for all

Inactivity is a cause for concern. Picture: Julie Bull

Inactivity is a cause for concern. Picture: Julie Bull


Giving the ‘keys to life’ to young people and adults with learning disabilities opens up many doors says Graeme Thomson

The recent Keys to Life strategy report quoted some startling statistics about the health and well-being of children, young people and adults with learning disabilities.

“It has been reported that less than 10 per cent of adults with learning disabilities in supported accommodation eat a balanced diet,” the report stated.

And perhaps more shocking was this: “…children with learning disabilities spend 85 per cent of each day sitting or lying down”. A study in Glasgow found that, “…on average, adults with learning disabilities walk for around 15 minutes a week. These levels of inactivity cause health problems, such as heart problems or diabetes.”

These worrying statistics highlight the inequalities facing people with communication support needs, when it comes to being healthy and well. Sense Scotland believes that everyone we work with has the right to a healthy lifestyle and, over many years, we have supported many people on their journey to good health.

A healthy and happy life

From individual healthy eating programmes to a week of outdoor challenges in the Highlands, our health and physical activity team has played a huge role in helping individuals lead a healthy and happy life.

By combining a commitment to learning and having fun with a respect for risk-taking and adventure, Sense Scotland has earned a reputation for taking on challenges that others might shrink back from. And what could be more challenging and exciting than being waist deep in a cold Highland river, fighting your way to the other side.

“It was great crossing the river and walking in the water. I like to do a lot of adventurous things, I am in other words an action man!”

These are the words of Murray, who we support to live independently, reflecting on an outdoors week hosted by Sense Scotland for people from across Europe. You can see an interview with him on the Sense Scotland YouTube page – and it’s clear how proud he is of his river crossing adventure.

But we recognise that while a river crossing is an exciting opportunity for some, others may require more accessible, less demanding forms of exercise and activities, in order to live a healthy and fulfilling life. A person-centred approach ensures that individual journeys to good health are exactly that – tailor-made and inspired by the ambition and aspiration of each person.

An individual, who we support in Fife, has dual sensory impairment and communication support needs. She was involved in one of our walking groups when it became clear that she wasn’t enjoying the experience as much as the others. She showed no interest in interacting with the environment through touch and points of reference offered to her by staff.

Determined to meet her needs, staff researched her back story and discovered she had grown up on a farm with lots of animals about. By combining their next walk at Forfar Loch with a visit to the Guide Dog Training School, staff witnessed her encounter with the young dogs. She appeared so relaxed and, from first meeting the dogs, her arms were outstretched, seeking interaction and physical contact with the dogs.

She was also smiling and giggling and actively seeking out the dog when it moved or changed position. By understanding her individual story and needs, staff are now exploring more opportunities for contact with dogs and linking this with a healthy walk.

Healthy eating

But well-being is also about healthy eating, and Sense Scotland has supported a number of people to take greater control of their diet.

A group of older men in Perthshire, who share a home, started getting involved in their garden after Sense Scotland’s outdoor activities co-ordinator encouraged them to plant, care for and harvest vegetables to cook with. They are now eager to talk to you about their garden and what’s ready to eat.

We know through working with and listening to families and the people we support that their health and well-being is not an optional extra; it often defines their life.

Get it wrong and we reduce significantly the quality of their life and limit their ambitions and aspirations. Get it right and we not only release them to fulfil their potential, we also give them the “Keys to Life”, and a happy and healthy one at that.

• Graeme Thomson is communications officer at Sense Scotland www.sensescotland.org.uk


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