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Good health tips for special pupils

Health promotion resources for children with learning difficulties can be hard to find but word is out that one charity has prepared several, writes Karen Shead

It is difficult to get the message of healthy living across to teenagers at any time, but when they have learning difficulties the challenge is even greater.

The Edinburgh-based charity Fair (Family Advice and Information Resources), which provides help for people with learning difficulties, has only recently discovered a demand for its materials from schools. Margaret Hurcombe, the project manager, was surprised to learn that resources she had helped to produce to educate teenagers and adults about healthy living were being used in science lessons.

The charity has published a series of leaflets on various health subjects, from personal hygiene and oral health to examining testicles and breasts, producing the first one more than five years ago.

"As a charity we provide face-to-face advice but we also check resources that are used for working with people with learning disabilities," says Mrs Hurcombe.

"In 1997 some of the community nurses approached us and said they were working with women with learning disabilities about spotting breast cancer.

They said that the materials they had were not appropriate and were hard to understand. We looked into what was available and thought we could do better."

Following a successful application for National Lottery funding, two guides to examining testicles and breasts were produced as leaflets and CD-Roms.

"These materials were well received and we felt they ought to be getting out to a wider audience. We talked to the then Health Education Board for Scotland (now NHS Health Scotland) who were interested and since about 2000 we've been working with them. They have been evaluating the materials and have distributed copies to all the health promotion departments in Scotland."

Mrs Hurcombe is keen for more schools to have access to the materials. "We are aware that when schools get hold of the materials they do like them, but the problem is that mostly they don't know about them. Learning disability nurses tell school nurses about them and schools have been finding out that way."

School nurse Rosemary Timmons, who works with special schools in Edinburgh, has introduced the resources to Willowpark, whose pupils have complex medical andor physical difficulties accompanied by mild to moderate learning difficulties. They have been using the leaflets for more than a year.

"They are very good," says Ms Timmons. "They are clear and the children understand them. I have not found many resources like this for special educational needs."

She has found the guide to having a healthy heart particularly useful. "We have a lot of children who have health problems and part of my job is to teach children about healthy lifestyle and healthy eating," she says.

"I've also used the guide to having a period, which was very good. The self-examination ones aren't as popular but they will come in useful later on. The healthy heart one and guides to keeping clean are very popular."

She has used the materials with children on a one-to-one basis and in groups. "It can highlight a lot of different issues and bring up all sorts of discussions. Sometimes you can have a group discussion and it alleviates concerns the children have," she says.

Science teacher Morag Munro agrees that the leaflets are useful resources.

"I have used them in personal and social education classes and also as part of what we do in the science classroom. I used the heart one specifically with the science class," she says.

"They are so well laid out and well illustrated. A lot of our children who have reading difficulties can find the information fairly easily and for children with difficulties they are appealing.

"I would certainly recommend the leaflets. They deal with things that the children will have to revisit throughout their school life," she says.

Mrs Hurcombe adds: "The only criticism of our resources is that we don't cover enough subjects, but we are working on that."

The charity has been awarded New Opportunities Fund money to produce a set of six leaflets on different cancers. It is also about to produce guides about having a cervical smear, agreeing to have sex, HIV and AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases.

Family Advice and Information Resources, tel 0131 662 1962

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