Current parenting programmes are aimed at mainstream, neurotypical children, leaving parents of children with learning disabilities trying to adapt information and advice.

Julie Birmingham.  Picture credit: John Houlihan

Realising this approach was inadequate for these parents, community learning disability nurse Julie Birmingham created a unique training group that helps parents of children with severe learning disabilities understand and manage challenging behaviour.

Around 12 sets of parents of children under 12 attend 10 weekly sessions. These include videos and role play, covering positive behavioural support strategies and material specific to children on the autistic spectrum.

Parents are encouraged to work on issues during the week and complete tasks at home. Each family receives a mid-week telephone call for support.

The course balances taught and peer-led work, giving parents confidence in developing approaches to managing their child’s behaviour and making them feel less isolated. Parents are empowered to see themselves as experts, reducing feelings of helplessness.

Julie Birmingham.  Picture credit: John Houlihan

Julie, who works for Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, developed the course material and delivered the first two pilot groups. She secured money to develop information files for parents that can be shared with other caregivers.

Julie says: ‘Parents feel more confident and more able to meet the needs of their child, thereby improving the child's health outcomes.

‘They valued the differentiated course material and felt freed up to speak honestly and candidly about their difficulties.

Previously they had felt isolated when attending mainstream neurotypical parenting courses.

‘This course has become the first-line intervention for primary-age children who are referred to our service. It has impacted positively on waiting list times.’

Julie is a finalist in the learning disabilities category of the RCNi Nurse Awards 2016, the profession’s top accolade for nursing excellence.

The award, sponsored by Cambian, is for nursing staff who have developed ways to support the wellbeing and social inclusion of people with learning disabilities to maintain physical and mental health.

Learning Disability Practice editor Colin Parish was a judge on the shortlisting panel. He says: ‘Learning disability nurses always go the extra mile for their service users – it’s in their blood.

‘But the candidates shortlisted for this year’s RCNi Nurse Awards have shown that even more can be done to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities, whose lives are often more challenging than necessary.

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