We live in a world that is changing for the better every day. I think that this fact is undeniable; there is still a long way to go but the drive to ensure that we are all treated equally in an inclusive society is stronger than it ever has been before. The understanding of needs for young people with learning disabilities such as Autism, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, Down Syndrome etc. is now at an all-time high. Our ability to recognise and understand those that require a little (or a lot) of extra guidance and support is far improved even in comparison to that of 10 years ago.
However, there are still issues that we have yet to overcome. Over recent years there have been numerous campaigns to ensure awareness regarding mental wellbeing, yet often people with a learning disability are overlooked when it comes to this topic, whereas in fact, it is more likely to have higher prevalence within this section of the community.
One of the possible reasons for this higher likelihood is that many young people with LD lack in general confidence and self-belief.
My name is Marc and I have worked within the SEN sector since 2011. I have predominantly worked with children and young people with Autism, ADHD, Brain Injury and Down Syndrome and I have always noted that a child or young person could only achieve positive things in life when they had confidence in themselves and in what they were doing. Many young people with mild to severe learning disabilities, for one reason or another, are provided with fewer opportunities to succeed compared to someone who does not have any disability. Having less exposure to these opportunities to grow inevitably can only breed a lack of confidence, not being able to draw from previous success generally de-motivates a person to even try in the first place.
Lacking in confidence can often isolate a person making them become more insular, this can have negative knock-on effects such as poor peer interaction, lack of ability to maintain healthy relationships, poor attendance in education, lower job prospects, lower-income, anxiety and depression.
I have found over the years is that exercise can be a great subliminal way to instil belief in someone whilst also enjoying the health benefits that accompany the process. Each week I work alongside children aged 7 up to 17 (all of which have a learning disability) as a personal trainer within their home environment.
In my sessions I have a little mantra that I like to adhere to, ‘Can the individual that I am training, achieve before I leave?’ If the answer is no, then I have not done my job right. A good trainer doesn’t make you perform at your top level, they simply make you believe that you can.
Many of the children that I train need the little victories at the start to build that confidence; in a 60-minute session there may only be 5 minutes of actual physical exertion but those are the moments that can be the most valuable. For some sessions this may involve finishing a physical task, e.g. lifting weights, completing a squat challenge, getting a PB on the battle ropes whereas for others it may be the case of catching a ball for the first time or remembering the sequence of a task.
Understanding that it may have taken a lot of self-motivation to get to any of these points is essential, that acknowledgement of their achievement no matter how small it may appear on the outside can be huge to the individual.
Since starting this mantra I have noted a significant rise inability, determination, tenacity and spirit. I have seen Insular children become happier, ‘chattier’ people with amazing, interesting and funny personalities. It has allowed me to unlock doors which have been closed for a long time which reveal confident individuals that have ended up teaching me a thing or two!
Do I think that confidence and self-esteem is the answer to conquering mental health? No, I don’t.
Do I think that having confidence and self-esteem can create the foundations for positive mental health?
Yes, I think that there’s a very strong possibility that this could be the case and that if we can provide more opportunities for young people with additional needs to grow and develop their self-esteem on a regular basis.
We do this through exercising, acting, singing dancing, cooking, gardening, talking, playing, and then praising their achievements and acknowledging their successes then we may start to see a brighter future, a happier future, a healthier future for many more people in the years to come.
© Copyright Gemious Ltd 2020