People with learning disabilities and learning disability nurses; are they as misunderstood as one other?
Progress has been made in inclusivity for people with learning disabilities in the last ten years. The chance of employment and independent living has increased dramatically, which is all positive, right?
“It made me laugh and cry. Further, it made me proud of the profession into which I am about to enter”
This year the NHS has made a non-invasive Down’s syndrome screening test available for all pregnant women on the NHS. It is 99% accurate. When I saw the news my initial thought was that it was a positive medical advancement that would benefit all parties. That was until I saw Sally Phillips’ documentary ‘A World Without Down’s Syndrome’ in which she investigates the future of Down’s Syndrome in the UK by visiting Iceland, a country with said screening programme already in place - and a 100% termination rate if the test comes back positive.
Sally shed light in an incredibly sensitive and powerful way on living with and caring for people with Down’s. It made me laugh and cry. Further, it made me proud of the profession into which I am about to enter.
“The need for self-advocacy doesn’t stop at people with learning disabilities”
The show highlighted the determination of those who fight for the rights of people with learning disabilities and made me immensely proud of the field of nursing I have chosen. It demonstrated to me that now more than ever we need to empower and enable people with learning disabilities to self-advocate, so what seems at first like a medical advancement may well have a dramatic effect on the shape of our population.
The need for self-advocacy doesn’t stop at people with learning disabilities; it extends to our field of practice with learning disability nursing more prominent than in other fields for some reason. I have no idea why. I would love to put the misunderstanding of our field of practice down to the fact that it is small, however children’s nursing and midwifery are small fields of practice and yet I don’t see them having to fight their corner quite in the same way.
“If this means getting a bit of stick from our colleagues and getting our hands, face and feet covered in paint then so be it”
I understand that all professionals have pre-conceived ideas but these are often formed by a lack of knowledge, which leads to misrepresentation. No matter your speciality we all drink too many hot drinks and eat a preposterous amount of snacks. Yes, at times I have had ten cups of tea on a shift and accidentally eaten a whole packet of biscuits. However the tea is never hot when you come to drink it and the biscuits are merely to improve the now cold beverage.
But my favourite misconception about learning disability nursing is the classic one; that all we do is colour in. I am not denying the creativity that is present in learning disability nursing and I have done my fair share of colouring in but all this wonderful creativity does serve a purpose. It allows us to create deep, therapeutic relationships with the people we care for. If this means getting a bit of stick from our colleagues and getting our hands, face and feet covered in paint then so be it.
Liv Lindsay-Gould is Student Nursing Times’ learning disabilities student editor and a 3rd year learning disabilities student nurse, University of York