by Katie Sparkes, Lightyear Foundation. Lightyear is looking for volunteers to support its work – see end of post for details.
Bright lights, strange smells, the cacophony of machines and a seemingly interminable wait: nobody likes hospital appointments, so imagine how much worse it is for disabled children and their families, who not only have to attend significantly more appointments, but often really struggle with sensory and anxiety issues. These appointments can be hugely distressing and challenging to carry out successfully.
The Physiological Society is doing its bit to tackle this issue. We’re working with the science charity The Lightyear Foundation to create and fund a series of Human Body Sensory Science workshops aimed at demystifying the medical process for disabled children and equipping them with the skills to help them get through medical appointments.
This not only helps the children themselves but it also helps the NHS. Unfortunately, it is very common for children to become so distressed that the appointment needs to be abandoned. In fact, Lightyear Foundation’s research suggests that more than a third (34%) of medical procedures for disabled children end this way. This is not only detrimental to the child, but also hugely costly for the NHS.
Emma Stockton, Consultant Anaesthetist at the Great Ormond Street NHS Foundation Trust is all too familiar with these issues. She says:
“Children with learning disabilities in particular find medical procedures and environments challenging and exhibit anxieties over and above non-disabled children. Often in a hospital environment sensory issues can be magnified with lights, new sounds, people and smells, it can be overwhelming for them.”
Emma continues: “I very much welcome this project. Whilst every child is different, familiarising children in this way and at the same time introducing them to human biology that reinforces the National Curriculum, is so valuable. Not only could it help relieve some anxiety for the children, but it’ll help support parents/carers too. By making it easier for us medical professionals to administer treatment, it will even potentially reduce the likelihood of medical procedures having to be repeated.”
While this is a serious issue, the watchword of the workshops themselves is FUN. In order to familiarise children with these procedures, the medical setting is made magical. The myriad wires of an EEG machine are re-purposed into a maypole. Children create art with (safe!) syringes. Child-friendly human body kits give children an insight into which of their organs are being checked, and why.
And the aim isn’t just to get these kids more comfortable in a medical setting. All too often, science is seen as ‘too tough’ a subject for disabled kids and those with special needs. This is anything but true! So another aim of the workshops is to reinforce the learning in the National Curriculum and inspire the next generation of disabled STEM stars, sparking a passion to follow in the footsteps of Alan Turing (Asperger’s Syndrome), Thomas Edison (deafness), Isaac Newton (autism), Ralph Braun (muscular dystrophy) and Geerat Vermeij (blindness).
This is a great cause that will make a real difference to the life of disabled children and we need your help to deliver it. We’re looking for volunteers to assist at projects (term time, school hours). DBS checks and training will be provided and all skill sets are welcome, you just need to be willing to work as part of a team and be gentle, patient and encouraging with a broad range of kids.