The below article was written by Jo Fitzsimmons, a member of the SelfharmUK Team.

At some point in our life we have all struggled to understand something: whether that’s algebra, a friend’s response to a situation or a decision made by others.

What if most things were a struggle?

Learning disabilities can make many situations a struggle. ‘learning disabilities’ can cover a huge range of struggles; dyspraxia, dyslexia, autism, adhd, down syndrome…..Whatever the struggle, behind it is a real person with humour, a smile, good days and sad days, perhaps though, the struggles are harder than many of us face.

Statistically those young people with additional needs will have higher rates of self-harming behaviour than those without any additional needs. This is due to a number of factors:

Communication difficulties. Finding the right words to express feelings, having confidence to ask for help, having limited verbal communication to speak are all huge obstacles for someone with an additional need to overcome. Having feelings trapped inside and feeling prisoner to them, can cause self-harming behavior.

Physical needs. The feeling of frustration at being unable to physically manage what others can; the fear of having people stare at us or treat us differently because our physical needs are different; the impact of living day to day with a routine focused on managing basics needs – all these will impact the mental health and wellbeing of a person with additional needs.

Sensory needs. Have you ever found noise too much? Hated someone hugging you? Wanted to hide in the dark to get away from people, sounds, smells? If so, you may be able to understand the impact our senses have on us feeling overwhelmed. Sensory disorders are far more common that we think and they can affect us by making us anxious of crowds, fear noises and hate strong smells. People who struggle with these areas find ways to soothe themselves, sometimes through harming behaviours.

How can we support those with additional needs?

  • Tackle any isolation you see by befriending, listening and taking time to learn about them – not just their need.
  • Enable and enhance their ability to communicate with you – whether that’s through using specific forms of communication (PECS, sign language, writing, singing), have fun finding out the best ways to communicate together.
  • Find out what environment suits them best – somewhere with lots going on, somewhere quiet, group work or 1:1 chats, coffee shops or at home?

Put simply: go out of your way to be a friend to someone with additional needs. 

You will find more information about SEN and self-harm here.

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