Learning Disability and Autism Forum, January 2024

06 February 2024

Holding invisible balls, interacting with a healthy eating plate, and agreeing to spit not rinse were all part of our latest Learning Disability and Autism Forum.

Small changes for better health

Health inequalities affect our clients more than other people. However, we can improve our health outcomes by making small changes to the food we eat and the activities we do. That’s why we held a forum on 30 January to raise awareness and to offer health advice in a way that suited our clients.

We wanted to make sure that everybody felt at ease to ask questions about topics that can be sensitive, so our Engagement team introduced rotating sessions to the forum. This allowed health experts to address smaller groups which, in turn, enabled people to participate with greater confidence.

A warm welcome from David House and Meera Siyani

Breathing and mindfulness

We had an invigorating start to the forum with breathing exercises from Jodie Spiers, who many will know from our Pinner Green hub. After showing us how to breathe holding imaginary balls and flexing lion paws, Jodie encouraged us to be aware of ourselves and the space we were in. This is part of mindfulness; it’s easy to practise and helps to clear the mind.

Positive mental wellbeing

Ciaran Bryne shared ways to boost our mental health, which then improves our physical health. Speaking from personal experience, he urged people to connect with others. When we feel low, we might want to be alone, but seeing family and friends will counter the urge to isolate oneself.

Getting active, whether spring cleaning or going for a walk, is essential for our wellbeing. Ciaran pointed out that we also need to take notice of what is happening around us. This ties in with practising mindfulness.

He stressed the need for us to learn new things because it helps to exercise the brain. Ciaran’s tip was something we can all try: learn how to spell a friend’s name backwards in your head. Giving time and attention to other people is another way to boost our positive mental health. As Ciaran said, we had already practised giving by sharing our presence with each other at the forum.

Ciaran from Mind in Harrow

Be more active in Harrow

Moving around, even when we’re cooking or cleaning, helps our bodies to feel good. This was one of the messages presented by Shinelle Sutherland and Billy Hopkins, along with ideas of places to visit in Harrow to help us get more active.

They shared information about Harrow Health Walks. Joining a walking group can make us more fit and we can meet people at the same time.

Shinelle and Billy from Public Health Harrow

Annual Health Checks and Health Passports

Safron Simmonds explained why Annual Health Checks are important. If you are over the age of 14 and you have a learning disability, your GP should invite you to come for an Annual Health Check.

Safron also said that using a Health Passport ensures that NHS staff have a record of your learning disability as well as your medication. A Health Passport tells NHS staff how they should talk and listen to you.

Safron from NHS North West London

Group sessions: up, down, in and out!

We were pleased at the energy and creativity of our health experts. They made the most of rotating sessions to raise awareness about topics ranging from oral health and healthy eating to breast cancer and bowel cancer screening.

Matilde Kerr invited audience participation with her balanced food plate. Each group she spoke to took it in turns to identify starchy carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, dairy and alternatives, proteins, and fats and oils.

‘Spit, don’t rinse’ was one of the oral health messages shared by Erinna Proudfoot and Louise McLean. They encouraged us not to rinse with water after brushing our teeth and advised against using mouthwash straight after (unless your dentist advises otherwise). They also showed us an experiment with a dirty coin and fizzy drink to help us be more aware of how sugar rots our teeth.

Keziah Hards and Mansi Tara spoke about breast cancer awareness. They described the signs to look out for and how to feel around the chest area – skin changes affect men as well as women. Breast cancer screening is done using a mammogram, and you can ask for reasonable adjustments to help you attend a breast screening appointment.

Andrew Prentice talked us through the stages of bowel cancer screening. He showed each group how to use a home testing kit to take a very small sample of poo. Although bowel cancer screening checks are not routinely offered to people under the age of 50, it’s important to know about this form of cancer and encourage carers and parents to take part in the screening programme.

Matilde from Public Health Harrow

Erinna and Louise from Whittington NHS Trust

Keziah and Mansi (left and centre) from Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

Andrew from St Mark’s Hospital

How was it for you?

Audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive as Community ConneX Trustee Hazel Paterson noted in her summary. Most people who came to the forum enjoyed learning something new from our health experts. Our forthcoming report will detail how Community ConneX, our clients and our supporters benefited from the Learning Disability and Autism Forum and what our next steps will be.

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