By Helen Westerman, Local Campaigns Manager for NSPCC
Who are you? What do you feel? How are we the same or different?
The answers are far from straightforward, whatever your age or ability. But for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) these topics can be especially hard to understand or talk about.
And what about sex and relationships?
It can be a confusing or scary subject for children and young people with SEND and it's not always easy for their parents and carers to think about but we do need to talk about it. Sadly, there's no escaping the fact that disabled children are at a higher risk of abuse and neglect*, so we must do all we can to help them stay safe and to help adults recognise if there are any causes for concern. But we also need to empower young people so that they are safe and supported and, where they choose to do so, are part of a healthy and happy relationship.
It's a subject I've been passionate about for a long time, which is why I'm delighted that we've recently launched Love Life, films and teaching resources that can be used to explore emotions, relationships and identity with 11- to 25-year-olds with learning disabilities.
Developing Love Life
It's Not OK, our teaching materials about healthy relationships for young people aged 11+, work really well for mainstream children. But we realised there was a need to create something for young people with SEND. So we worked with Elanor Stannage and Connecting Youth Culture to develop Love Life.
We initially delivered six performance and workshop sessions in Sheffield. They were really well received and the feedback from teachers was excellent. But we wanted to do more. By its nature, we can only reach a small number of young people through live performance and we wanted to make this important topic accessible to young people wherever they were. So we set to work on creating film and online materials.
Putting young people at the centre
It was important that what we created worked for a range of abilities and understanding. Some young people know a lot about relationships or they may have more experience whereas for others this is all quite new and scary. We worked with groups of young people throughout the development, constantly checking and testing what we produced. Young people told us that they needed time to think about and process what they were hearing and seeing. So, during the films, we suggest stopping at certain points for discussion or debate or to do an activity - whatever is right for the group of young people that you're working with.
That level of flexibility is one of the things that I think makes Love Life so valuable for teachers. You know the children and young people that you work with best. You understand their particular needs and requirements. So you need materials that you can adapt and use in the best way for the young people that you work with.
We wanted to take young people on a journey, allowing them to get to know the characters in the films, so we recommend watching them in order - although they do work independently from each other. The activities have been designed so that you can pick and mix or work through each in turn. They include sensory exercises, discussion, colouring and modelling, allowing you to choose what works best for the young people you're working with and take things at their pace.