I have been working with children and young people who have learning disabilities since I left college. My role as a community nurse means that no two days are ever the same and I have worked with some truly amazing families.
Four years ago I was teaching a small group of teenagers about health promotion and we were talking about how important it is to stay healthy, when one of them asked “when do I know it’s the right time to have sex with my boyfriend?” What a great question! This inspired me to start exploring the idea of a project around sexual health for young people who have a learning disability. I didn’t think I had the specialist skills required to do this on my own and I was introduced to our Public Health Practitioner, Terence Higgins Trust and Brookside Sexual Health advisors and together we started to plan a sexual health roadshow to be held at Furze Down School sixth form. We felt this would be a great opportunity for young people to ask questions in a safe and secure environment. On the day of the event we had a fabulous time with the young people and we were given some very positive feedback from them and their teaching staff.
We now offer the roadshow to other special schools annually and have recently changed the name to “Skills 4 Life Roadshow”. This change of name reflects the fact that students are asking questions on a wider variety of topics including internet safety, drugs and alcohol and as a result we have invited other agencies, such as RU Safe and Addaction, to be involved and give advice about their services. Of course we still continue to cover sexual health, relationships, consent and my changing body.
We have adapted most of our resources so that wider audiences of young people, with varying learning needs, are able to understand and join in on the day. Our goal is to ensure that whilst young people are safe, that they are also able to enjoy happy sexual lives and healthy relationships. We believe they need to understand what is happening to their maturing bodies and their changing emotions and be accepted as sexual people in the same way as the general population. We will continue to liaise with the special schools to meet the ever changing needs of their young people.
What started as a “one off” roadshow is now county-wide, involving five different sixth form departments in special schools. It is hoped that this will continue to improve young peoples’ outcomes around their skills for life. In addition, now that the Terrence Higgins Trust has taken on the management of the Skills 4 Life Roadshows, I hope that the project will further evolve and develop –with the continuing support from our community nurses team of course.
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