Steps for a Healthy Future for people with learning disabilities

6X4A8638Knowing what a healthy lifestyle looks like is a challenge for all us, and sustaining it for the long term requires dedication and commitment.  There are many factors which determine how successful we are in pursuing this goal, and we all have barriers that we have to overcome in order to meet whatever targets we set ourselves. We will all have to find tricks and techniques that help us to understand the myriad of advice that’s available, and develop personal approaches that keep us motivated despite all of the temptations thrown at us. None of us is immune from this.

Adults with a learning disability have their own set of training nuances which need to be considered in determining the best methods for communicating health messages.

Steps for the Future, is a performing arts group for “Adults with Differences”  however it sees its remit as much broader than just singing, dancing and drama. It creates an opportunity for the students to develop their overall potential, improve self-esteem, confidence, and enrich their lives. Health is a real factor in their mission. Many of the students have Down’s Syndrome, which is a condition which can result in a lower level metabolic rate and a predisposition towards weight gain if not checked regularly.

In Derby, there is the Livewell programme – a 12 month challenge, promoted and funded by Derby City Council which is principally focussed at people with a BMI of greater than 30, smokers, or pregnant women. Each participant has a tailor made programme that helps them monitor themselves to achieve their personal outcomes.

Maggie Attenborrow, CEO of Steps for the Future, explains how she first became aware of the programme, and saw how to develop it for her students.

“I have done a lot of research on people with Down’s Syndrome,  and understood the complications that they have like, lung disease, heart disease, early dementia and weight problems. In the past I helped one of our students as a support worker when he went to a slimming club. He was lost and he didn’t know what they were on about. The message didn’t get through to him and no one tried to talk to him about weight.  And then when I was at the hospital, I met a nurse who deals with people with learning difficulties and she showed me the easy-read version of the Council’s Livewell programme and it made me think, and I came up with an idea which was different. To be able to get the message over to people with disabilities….the best people to do that is, people with disabilities themselves.  I’ve worked with them for 20 years , and I know that they understand each other better than I understand them, or they understand me”

What Steps for the Future is about is self-esteem and confidence so, to make some of our students Class Leaders, really helps with that. Also if a person with a learning disability comes in and sees someone with a disability delivering the class, then they can see that it’s achievable.”

 Steps for the Future is a small organisation and Maggie explored ways of expanding their existing link with the University of Derby in the delivery of the programme. But it also needed to be a  good experience for the university students and a chance for them to learn new skills.

“I approached a student who was working with us at the time,  Rebecca, and explained the idea to her, and asked her if she would like to take on the project. I told her that I would get the funding, and would support her. She jumped at the chance. We got together 9 Facilitators who would be trained by Mark Doleman of Livewell.”


And then she looked for support from within Steps for the Future:

“I opened it up to our students to see if anyone wanted to be a Class Leader, and the plan was that the faciltators support the Class Leader, and the Class Leaders put over the information to anyone new who joins the club. We have 7 now and they are learning each week about healthy eating.”


After being trained by the Livewell team, the Facilitators had to develop a “teaching plan” for each session which would be engaging, entertaining, clear, and relevant for the learning capabilities of the STEPs students. This would involve a degree of repetition to help with the learning process, and the delivery always needed to be fresh.


Exercise is an important part of the philosophy, so the final 30 minutes of each weeks session is devoted to making sure that activity is understood as an important component of the lifestyle


Maggie sees that they are ready to take the next step:

 “The 1st 6 months was a bit like a pilot and we’re now ready to push it and get it out there into the community and see if we can get anyone who classes themselves as someone with a “difference” to attend. It will be at a pace that is more conducive to the way that they learn. It’s about repeating the points over and over again”

The University students, are sharing the leadership of the sessions as they are weaving this activity in with their own studies. Working as a team, and communications between them is an important part of the lessons that they are learning. They are also developing their management skills, better resource planning, how to maintain continuity across the group, being creative in getting the messages across, and being agile to the changing circumstances….each week is not the same, that is part of their 12 month challenge.

They are studying a variety of subjects which gives them different insights and perspectives on how they can help support this project. They will also benefit, personally, in many different ways from this initiative. The students involved are:

Cristina Benavent – Early Years Teaching Degree with Mention in English – University of Castilla-la-Mancha.
Rebecca Newman, – Creative Express Therapies
Jessica Tedford – Creative Expressive Therapies
Ioanna Thoma – Dance movement Psychotherapy (Masters Degree). Ioanna is from Cyprus.
Eleanor Guerin – Social Work
Anastasia Moraity – Dance Movement Psychotherapy (Masters Degree). Anastasia is from Greece.
Lorna Budd – Health & Social Care
Hannah Collins – Psychology
James Inger – Psychology & Criminology

Maggie is realistic as to how difficult the process will be, but also realises that it is critically important that anyone who has a “difference” should be given the best opportunity to benefit from sound  advice, and can look forward to a healthy future.

“To get results, I know you have to be very very patient. People might understand it in the classroom environment, but when they go away they have difficulty retaining the knowledge which is why we go over it many times and, eventually, it will become part of their thinking and way of life….and then I’ll know we’ve succeeded”

Categories: Disability, Health

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1 reply »

  1. Well done Russell. I attended a performance in the Quad a couple of years ago where the performers were all part of Maggie Atkinsons performing arts group. It was great to see her students with Downs Syndrome showing such skill and enthusiasm. Glad you have given Maggie and her students the publicity they deserve.

    Les Allen

    Sent from my iPad


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