Nutrition Education: An Extremely Important Training for the IDD Population

Guest Editor: Aimee Gant, MS Student, Dietetics and Nutrition Florida International University

Guest Editor: Aimee Gant, MS Student, Dietetics and Nutrition
Florida International University

Hello my name is Aimee Gant and I am a Dietetic & Nutrition Masters student.  For my dietetic internship through Florida International University, I had the privilege of fulfilling my community rotation with Karlyn Emile at the Special Olympics Healthy Community.   I was fortunate enough to get to work with the intellectual and developmentally disabled (IDD) population.  An intellectual disability is characterized by limitations in intellectual functioning and difficulties in a variety of everyday social and practical skills. A developmental disability is attributed to a cognitive or physical impairment that results in limitations in areas such as, self-care, language, and motility. The term IDD encompasses a wide range of disorders and syndromes.

Nutrition education is extremely important for the IDD population. Research has shown that adults with IDD have poorer health outcomes than the rest of the population due to decreased physical and intellectual functioning, limited access to resources, and reduced independence with daily living skills. Additionally, the rates of overweight/obesity in the IDD population is much greater than the general population, therefore putting them at a higher risk for nutrition-related diseases. Facilities such as the Special Olympics Healthy Community allows an environment which enables individuals with IDD to become knowledgeable and aware of their needs through nutrition education classes and by providing quality healthcare access.

Due to the fact that individuals with IDD have difficulties comprehending complex information, using judgment, logical thinking, and have trouble following multi-step directions it is imperative that this population has simple and direct lesson plans.  For this reason, my main goal was to educate students on basic nutrition knowledge, healthy lifestyle habits, and the importance of daily physical activity. In order to promote learning, tasks were broken down into small steps so students did not feel overwhelmed. Also, a hands-on approach was used, since students with IDD learn best when information is concrete and observed. Therefore, food models and visuals were frequently used in lessons to enable a better understanding of the topic. Students were given immediate feedback, which allowed them to make a connection between their behavior and my response. Classes were held for one hour, however, educational discussions were no longer than 15 minutes so I did not lose the student’s interest. In order to keep the students engaged and entertained, computer-based nutrition games, nutrition education handouts, and interactive group activities were used as teaching tools. These teaching styles helped promote a proper learning environment for this population to better understand basic nutrition knowledge that may benefit their health in the longer term.

Some of my fondest memories of working with this population was to see how helpful they were to their peers. I frequently noticed students assisting other students if they were confused and I was busy with another student. An example of a time the students showed active class participation and assisted a fellow student was during the lesson on “Proper Portion/Balanced Meals.” Each student was given a blank plate and instructed to use the provided food models to create their very own meal, which needed to be balanced and proportional according to the “MyPlate” guidelines previously reviewed in class. We went around the room and had each student present their meals. The majority of the class successfully completed this activity, however there was one student who had all meat foods on her plate. I realized that this student did not fully grasp the concept of the lesson. With the student’s permission she allowed the entire class to help her fix her plate to be more balanced. We went around the room and each student helped suggest other foods so she was able to fulfill every food group on her plate. In the end, the student was happy with her plate and felt that she understood the lesson with the assistance of her peers, and the class felt good for being able to assist her.

Overall, from my experience of working with the IDD population, I have gained an awareness of the difficulties this population faces and I feel immense satisfaction from being able to support and educate IDD individuals about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.



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