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. A recent podcast describes this practice and gives a very clear explanation of current literature in this area. A short 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 been running mindfulness groups for children/young people and adults with learning disabilities.

We receive regular supervision from Bridgette O’Neill one of Sussex Mindfulness Centre's leading teacher trainers. This supervision has helped the group 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 sessions for people with learning disabilities. An initial mindfulness course was run in the Summer of 2019 (which was reported on at a workshop during 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 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 and sensory experiences.

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 courses and weekly mindfulness practice times.

We have liaised with partners working in other areas of the country. Plans for the future include further liaison with others, delivering more eight-week courses and training other advocates with learning disabilities to support future work. We would also like to find ways to evaluate our work.

Celia Heneage and Nicola Smith, self-advocate, gave a key note talk about Mindfulness for People with Disabilities at the Sussex Mindfulness Centre Conference in September 2021 about the work we have been doing to share mindfulness ideas and practices with people who have learning disabilities. (Film credit: Sonam Nguyen Temple). Take a look at the recording below.

Mindfulness with people with learning disabilities from SMC on Vimeo.

Our annual conference also featured a workshop on Mindfulness for People with Learning Disabilities led by Gill Hurren, with Lucy Westcott from the Springwell Group of Experts by Experience, Celia and Nicola, and we showed a film which had been produced by the L’Arche Community in Bognor Regis (Film credit: Ferdinand Claveria).

Mindfulness for people with Learning Disabilities with L'Arche, Bognor Regis, Film credit: Ferdinand Claveria, from SMC on Vimeo.

We have made available a series of practices, including body scans, mountain breathing, sitting meditation and soles of the feet. Listen to them below:

Celia three  minute breathing space

Celia Body scan (17 minutes)

Celia Mindfulness of breath (13 minutes)

Celia 20 minute sitting practice 

Celia Soles of the feet practice (7 minutes)

Gill Mindfulness of breath (6 minutes)

Gill Mountain breathing space (4 minutes)

Hannah three part mindfulness practice (9 minutes)

Martin body scan (15 minutes)


For further information please contact the Sussex Mindfulness Centre who can connect you with us.