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Mindfulness in learning disabilities services

It's still early days for mindfulness interventions which try to address the particular needs of people with learning disabilities/intellectual impairment. Many of the published papers have focused on helping people learn a ‘Soles of the Feet’ practice to cope when they find life difficult, and an excellent Youtube video shows members of a Self Advocacy group who share their knowledge about mindfulness

The University of Bangor has produced some helpful guidelines for people working in this area -  ‘Good Practice Guidelines: mindfulness based programmes for people with learning disabilities’

At Sussex Partnership, a group of us who are Learning Disability practitioners, and who are also trained mindfulness teachers, have already begun to run mindfulness groups for children/young people and adults with learning disabilities.

We have received regular supervision from Bridgette O’Neill, which has helped us think through a number of different relevant issues. We regularly support a local L’Arche community, and they agreed to be a pilot site to help us develop mindfulness groups. An initial group was run in the Summer of 2019 (reporting back in a workshop at the annual Sussex Mindfulness Centre conference in October 2019). A second group started in February 2020, but had to end early due to Covid-19, and later continued as a weekly mindfulness practice group. More recently we have worked with the Springwell Group of Experts by Experience and continue weekly practice sessions with some of them.

Some of the things we have been doing

We have tried to ‘distil the essence’ of both the Mindfulness-based cognitve cognitive therapy and Mindfulness-based stress reduction traditional eight-week mindfulness courses into our own simpler eight week format, and hope to produce a group protocol and adapted participant pack.

We have borrowed and created several different accessible resources for mindfulness practice, such as visual/sensory prompts to help explain concepts and simplify practices. We are aware of the need for ongoing creative development of these resources. The work has made use of lots of images, cards, glitter jars, videos, music, sensory experiences, often ably helped by Brutus, Nicola’s Mindful Cat.

We have recruited a local self-advocate with an interest in and experience of mindfulness. She has participated in an eight week course and helped to lead subsequent ones and weekly mindfulness practice times.

Mindfulness with people with learning disabilities from SMC on Vimeo.

Celia Heneage and Nicola Smith, self-advocate, gave a key note talk at the Sussex Mindfulness Centre Conference in 2021 about the work they and others have been doing to share mindfulness ideas and practices with people who have learning disabilities. Along with others (Gill Hurren, Martin Stent, the L’Arche Community in Bognor Regis and the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s Springwell group of Experts by Experience) they have been leading adapted 8-week courses and weekly practices exploring what mindfulness is and how it can be helpful in our lives. Their accessible definition is “Mindfulness is paying attention right now to what you are doing and how you are feeling, being nice to yourself as you do this".

We have liaised with partners working in other areas of the country. Plans for the future include further liaison with others, delivering more 8-week courses and training other self-advocates with learning disabilities to support future work. We would also like to find ways to evaluate our work.  For further information please contact the Sussex Mindfulness Centre who can connect you with us.

Our learning disability practitioners have made available a series of practices, including body scans, mountain breathing, sitting meditation and soles of the feet. Download them here