Designing a weight management course for children with learning difficulties

By July 25, 2018Courses

There’s no such thing as a child with simple needs. But developing a learning difficulties-focussed weight management programme has shown us how complex the world can be for some of the most challenged children in our community…

More and more children with learning difficulties are obese. In 2016 the British Paediatric Neurology Association and British Academy of Childhood Disability measured 264 pupils attending a local Special Educational Needs (SEN) secondary school. They reported 40% of pupils with learning disability were overweight or obese, which is much higher than published reports for the general population of the same age at 33%. And SHINE have been partnering with Sheffield Mencap & Gateway on a new project to adapting our materials to deliver weight management programmes for this important specialist group.

With the support of Mencap Chief Exec Janet Sullivan and funding from Children in Need, we’ve trained four Mencap staff teachers here in Sheffield to deliver a new SHINE weight management programme, which includes an increased visual focus and more interactive exercises and games.

Textures, colours and aromas all play a massive part in eating for children with learning difficulties so understanding sensory eating has been really important for this. Through engagement and observations we’ve found out loads about how children with learning difficulties can be selective or fussy eaters, disliking ‘wet’ food like gravy, sauces and yoghurt and preferring ‘beige’ foods like potatoes, bread and pasta. Children with learning difficulties can have entrenched disordered eating patterns at mealtimes, further complicated by medical conditions such as Pica and Prader-Willi Syndrome.

We’ve also learnt a lot from parents, who’ve openly discussed how difficult it is to manage these behaviours and how tempting it can be to give in to demands for a ‘quiet life’. But with guidance and support from SHINE staff, our parents have made amazing changes – challenging demands, setting boundaries around family mealtimes and introducing new foods in a fun way. Following positive results, we’re about to progress to our September course with new learning and greater confidence in our ability to help families make changes. Well done to our first group – you did us proud!