Working with families to support their child with a learning disability/autism

Dr Angela Ridley, Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University

Chloe Hawkins, Student Registered Nurse Learning Disabilities at Northumbria University

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Many people are unaware of the Registered Nurse Learning Disabilities. This piece gives insight into the role, by discussing how students are prepared to support families who have children with learning disabilities/autism. As well as supporting parents with learning disabilities/autism to care for their child.

National Learning Disability Week is celebrated every year in the UK during the third week in June, to make sure the world hears about what life is like for people with a learning disability. Through education and awareness raising the campaign challenges stigma and discrimination. Once again, mencap are leading the way for organisations to join in. This year we are talking about Living Life with a Learning Disability. The focus will be on how people with a learning disability have reconnected with family, friends and communities. As well as highlighting the issues many with a learning disability still face after the end of Covid restrictions.

Working with families to support their child with a learning disability/autism is an integral feature to the role of the Registered Nurse Learning Disabilities. It is crucial that nurses are adequately prepared with the relevant skills, knowledge and experience in order to do this. This is achieved by, the three year BSc Nursing Science Learning Disabilities programme or a two year MSc Nursing Science Learning Disabilities at Northumbria University.

Supporting families who have a child[ren] with learning disabilities/autism is threaded throughout the undergraduate and postgraduate nursing curricula. Similarly, the skills and knowledge required to support parents who have a learning disability/autism. Theory and practice occur simultaneously to facilitate experiential learning and application of conceptual, theoretical evidence-based clinical practice.

The role of the student learning disability nurse working with families can be both varied and dynamic in nature, in which students gain invaluable experience in understanding the way in which families are supported. Students completing practice placements have the opportunity to work both with children, adults and their families during the course of their undergraduate and postgraduate study. Whilst the nursing curriculum closely links theory and practice, experience with families is key to developing interpersonal skills for nursing students. Supervision and reflection allow students to monitor their progress and set goals to work towards, which can often include working with families.

No two families are the same, and students are placed in a valuable position to simultaneously provide support alongside registered nurses, other healthcare professionals and learn from families. Throughout the course of nurse education, families play an integral role in the development of student nurses, and often gaining feedback allows for students to increase in confidence when supporting families. The support that registered nurse learning disabilities, and students provide to families is broad and everchanging. The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected the way in which family support has been delivered, highlighting the adaptability of learning disability nurses.

A multifaceted approach to working with families is adopted by both registered learning disability nurses and student nurses. From supporting families with new diagnoses, to support across the lifespan – the broad spectrum of skills and knowledge required by registered learning disability nurses and students is one which continuously develops and adapts to suit the needs of families.