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Catherine Mitton with Helen McLoughlin, Dr Jo Bromley
The overall aim of the project was to improve the dental health, diet and physical activity of children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) within a Primary School for Children with special needs in Manchester. Therefore the project had several different strands, which involved multi-agency working throughout the year.
Within the school it was a noted that some staff were reluctant to be involved in children’s teeth cleaning. With the help of the dentist, staff have fully embraced this, and teeth cleaning is now a very popular activity, being used to calm distressed children as well as for the core health purpose. This combined with play sessions in school and therapeutic desensitization sessions have led to successful dental appointments, as the children are now more used to strangers looking in their mouths. The dentist has now created a local protocol for all dentists within South Manchester regarding the management of children with Autism, and the school nurse is now liaising with the dentist to help prevent missed appointments.
100% of children with ASD in the school were screened by the dentist. 100% of children in school are now brushing teeth on a daily basis, where as at the start of the project only 10 children out of the school population were doing this. 11 new referrals to a specialist dental service were made. These were for children whose parents had reported not being able to take their children to their own dentist. On an individual basis all the children within the school clean their teeth on a daily basis: two children who had severe tooth ache have completed their treatment and now go willingly to the dentist.
The previous year in school no health promotion directly related to dental health had been delivered to either parents or children in the school. During the project, 78 children have received at least one session of dental health promotion.
All the staff within the school have received training on feeding difficulties relating to children with autism. A resource pack has been developed by the clinical psychologist, which is to be used as an initial introduction for parents of young children with feeding difficulties in all special schools in Manchester. This pack has been positively evaluated by parents and found to be a useful resource with some good tips.
An autumn food festival was held in school where parent s were invited to join their children in class for activities, talks were given by the clinical psychologist and dental therapist. 23 parents attended, and both parents and children found it enjoyable and educational. This is to be now going to be an annual event with other events planned throughout the school year.
A strong link has now been developed between the sports development team for children with disabilities, and engaging families in physical activity has been adopted as a multi agency project amongst the 8 special schools in Manchester for 2011. A further resource booklet is also being produced by two parents and will include details of a range of activities within Manchester that are suitable for children with autism and other special needs. This is now a joint venture with the Government funded Aiming High for Disabled Children initiative. This booklet was the concept of the Working Together for Health Team, but the collaboration with Aiming High will enable the booklet to be distributed to every family of a child with special needs in Manchester (along with vouchers for free or reduced entry to activities).
All initiatives during the second half of the year have involved all the children in the school, although there remained an emphasis on the health needs of children with autism. The project has also progressed from supporting children within the school to helping children with Special Educational Needs throughout Manchester.
These successes are long lasting and sustainable, and while the project may have had successes with individual children and their families, it is the change in the way professionals work, and resources produced, which will enable more families to be helped in the future.
One of the most positive aspects of the project has been the level of Multi agency involvement. Strong links have been developed between the school nursing service, dental service, clinical psychologist and the school. These links have been beneficial not only for the project but also for other work with the children.
Improving the physical activity of children has now been adopted as a multiagency project for 2011 amongst all 8 special schools within Manchester and the first meeting has already taken place to further this.