Jo Colton is the Director of Programmes for Soundabout. Soundabout uses music, sound and silence to create opportunities where Learning Disabled People with complex support needs thrive. They recently launched the Sounds Wild project, a unique outdoor, multi-sensory exploration for Learning Disabled People of all ages.

Nestled under the tree canopy in a woodland clearing, you will find one of Soundabout’s Sounds Wild groups gathered in a circle. The Soundabout music practitioner is leading the group in exploring a sensory experience together.  Our guests for the day are Learning Disabled People with complex support needs and their parents or carers. 

We might be exploring birds; playing with interactive bird calls, building a soundscape of bird song or finding out how feathers float and dance on the wind or on vibrations we create when we let them blow free. Or we might be hiding in Mr Fox’s den and feeling his soft fur brush against our arms while he curls up to sleep. There are endless joyful ways that we can build that connectivity with nature for learning disabled people with complex support needs, giving attention to the sensory experience that nature provides in abundance.

The Sounds Wild project is a simple idea, using natural spaces and resources as a multi-sensory backdrop for Learning Disabled People with complex support needs. However, our community is rarely seen in natural spaces. The lives they lead are dictated by what they can or most often what they cannot access. A truly accessible space for our community would not only have wheelchair accessible pathways (which, gladly, we are seeing more and more of), but it would also include a fully accessible toilet with a changing bed and hoist. The spaces would not only be physically accessible, but we would also consider how to curate interactive experiences within those spaces to develop nature connectedness.

Soundabout - all rights reserved
A Sounds Wild session taking place in green space. All rights reserved.

The Sounds Wild project is one of the ways that we can develop that nature-based interaction, so that being in a natural space isn’t just a passive experience (for example, being pushed around a lake via an accessible pathway) but one that allows our different senses to be stimulated.

We can explore our sense of ‘self and other’ and grow that instinctive, primal connection with the natural world that all humans have, but not all humans have the opportunity to nurture.

The health inequalities in our community are stark, with learning disabled people across both genders having at least 20 years lower life expectancy than the general population. Learning Disabled People are twice as likely to die from a preventable death than people without a learning disability (see the LeDeR 2022 report). In terms of mental health, Learning Disabled People could be up to twice as likely to experience poor mental health outcomes compared to the general population (see Mencap).

Our understanding of the health and wellbeing benefits of being connected to nature are growing all the time. The Learning Disabled Community with complex support needs should be able to access the same benefits as everyone else, and perhaps given their health and wellbeing inequalities, should be seen as a priority to access those spaces.

Links and resources:

Soundabout website

The ‘Learning from Lives and Deaths’ 2022 review compiled by Kings College London

Mencap’s easy read version of their report into mental health

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