Throughout my learning experiences at Florida International University, while studying Dietetics and Nutrition, I had little to no experience with individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD). Subsequently, when I found out that I would be doing my community rotation with Karlyn Emile at the Special Olympics Florida, I was enthusiastic about learning and experiencing something new. Nevertheless, I was also nervous about how little I knew about this population.
Working with this population of individuals with IDD is a topic that as healthcare students we are not exposed to enough. We are not taught how to work, teach or be around this population. Many other students just like myself, find themselves lost when initially working with individuals with IDD. However, through a hands on experience, I quickly learned so much. I was able to learn about each student through health and wellness classes, computer labs, and the Wellness Warriors project (where students teach their peers about a specific nutrition topic). All of these programs allowed me to work with this population, utilizing different educational strategies such as games, different exercises (ranging from chair exercises to dancing) and handouts! Each day provided me with lessons I can now take away and utilize in my future practice as a part of the healthcare field.
A special moment that truly opened my eyes was when I was assisting in the Wellness Warriors project. One of the students, who I have formed a wonderful bond with in the several weeks practicing her presentation, was struggling with a few of the words for her part. As weeks went on, she slowly gained more confidence through special techniques shown to her, such as circling words that are difficult and repeating them three times before moving on. Very quickly it was as though this student transformed into someone new! She volunteered to practice in front of her peers first and even stopped me in the halls to show me her “circled” paper right by her side. It felt so wonderful seeing her improve and exude more confidence every week! When the presentation day finally arrived and she presented, she turned to me at the very end and smiled. Right then and there I knew of the impact I had made on her. It felt wonderful and reassuring to know that with this population anything is possible and with a little encouragement and small techniques they can accomplish anything, and are more than willing to try! This was something I was never able to experience during my school years and what I believe is an important part of the internship: interacting with your students, clients, and or patients, and seeing their improvements and accomplishments. Further enabling self-efficacy and most importantly, a healthier lifestyle.
I have learned several valuable lessons while working with this population. A few key teaching techniques to keep in mind are as follows. First, it is very important to plan the lessons ahead and be prepared for the classes. This is imperative because you want to make sure that you keep the lessons short and clear about the main teaching goal. This avoids overwhelming the student. Next, the presentations must be fun and engaging to keep the students attention and excitement about the topic. Providing hands on activities and learning models or visual aides are great teaching tools. This helps better their grasp of the information and make sure that it stays with them, and is actually implemented in their every day life. Lastly, and one of the more important lessons I have learned, is that repetition and patience are key. It may take some time for the students to understand the information, but that should not discourage you. With added repetition of previous information or lessons, these individuals are more than capable of understanding vital information about health and wellness.
Overall, working with individuals with IDD has been a rewarding experience and I believe that it is essential that the healthcare field is more readily exposed and prepared to work with these individuals. Healthcare professionals must be better at increasing and promoting healthy behaviors among this willing and able population!