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SMARTS hosts virtual training on supported decision making and sexuality of persons with intellectual disabilities

The project hosted an online training in April across three sessions on supported decision making and sexuality of persons with intellectual disabilities.

The SMARTS project finished a series of training sessions on supported decision making and sexuality of persons with intellectual disabilities and/or mental health issues. These sessions were held as part of the second Learning, Teaching and Training (LTT) set of activities. Support professionals from Greece, Spain and Portugal met online to receive a training delivered by SCT. After this training these participants will go back to their services and deliver this training to colleagues and other staff members in their countries.

What did the trainers and participants get to discuss during the training?

Throughout three sessions, the participants were able to discuss various themes related to the topic of supported decision making about sexuality, in particular: romantic relationships, sexual abuse and safeguarding etc.

Trainers presented participants with different scenarios and practical exercises which triggered interesting discussions which enabled partners to learn from each other’s methodology and experience.

In the last session, participants were asked to think about factors that would contribute to a smooth introduction of supported decision making about sexuality in their support services. Some participants suggested:

  • An open-minded staff and management;
  • Staff members being eager to learn new methodologies and to express their ideas;
  • Training both staff members and service users;
  • Service users feeling empowered knowing they can share their thoughts;
  • Creating an environment of trust between staff members and service users

Along the way there are bound to be certain hurdles in providing supported decision making about sexuality in support services for people with intellectual disabilities. Some of the potential problems discussed included:

  • Personal taboos regarding the topics (both from staff members and service users);
  • Resistance and/or reluctance from staff members who have never worked on the topic nor with this approach, as well as from service users’ families;
  • High turnover among the staff may hinder the trainings;
  • Prejudice regarding persons with disabilities’ sexuality;

For Maribel, Fundació Astres, a participant from Spain, an important takeaway from the training was how we affect people with disabilities with our own ideas, prejudices and experiences. Therefore, it is important to stress on the fact that it’s the right of people with disabilities to decide on important issues such as sexuality as the starting point of their own learning without anyone else’s prejudice influencing them. Additionally, service providers play a key role in contributing to the rights of people with disabilities.

Furthermore, she found it challenging to understand how our personal processes can affect the direct action we take with people with disabilities,

Glòria, Fundació Astres , another participant from Spain, felt the training helped to better understand the importance of attitude, values and myths in the conception of sexuality of people with intellectual disabilities. The  importance of personalising the support that is offered by service providers as professionals is crucial. As well as their should be a sense of willingness to listen to the preferences of people with intellectual disabilities, without prejudices, with the aim that the person with a disability gets control of their life and is able to make informed decisions.

For the trainers, Janis, Shirley and James, from the UK, the learners were extremely committed which was reflected in the quality and amount of work they put in completing in the modules of the training. For the trainers it was interesting to learn different perspectives offered, and be able to collaborate on solutions for a range of cultural issues.

Among some of the challenges, the trainers pointed out that the quality of the relationship between trainer and learner does impact the learning experience and therefore having a training session in-person is the best way to be able to achieve the goals of the training. Additionally, the topic of sexuality can be an uncomfortable topic for learners, and touches upon personal values, attitudes, and experiences. Both legislation and culture with respect to sexual expression varies between countries and this provided a further level of complexity during the training.

With the LTT coming to an end, successfully, in April, the SMARTS project has a new set of guidelines that will soon be published based on this training!