Therapeutic Nature Programme Offered to Children with Type 1 Diabetes

22nd June 2023
Young people participating in ‘Nature Place, Therapeutic Space’, Forest school sessions hosted by SET Outdoors in association with Paediatric Diabetes Specialist Nursing Service and NIFSA

Living and coping with Diabetes, especially as a child or young person can be tough. To help alleviate anxieties and provide support around Type 1 Diabetes, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust hosted therapeutic sessions in a forest setting for children young people with the condition.

The education sessions were themed ‘Nature Place, Therapeutic Space’ and took place at the Clandeboye Estate, Bangor for children and young people who attend the Paediatric Specialist Diabetes Nursing Service who have a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes. They were designed and delivered by SET Outdoors in association with the Paediatric Diabetes Specialist Nursing Service, Dietetics and Psychology Services and the Northern Ireland Forest School Association (NIFSA).

The sessions provided the children with an opportunity to engage with peers who have similar life experiences, in a safe and supportive environment. They were able to have fun together and play nature-based group activities together around Diabetes specific education to help promote social skills, build their confidence and self-esteem (especially in relation to diabetes management) and improve emotional wellbeing.

One of the children that attended the sessions described how they had really enjoyed the experience and said,  “It was great getting to meet other children with Diabetes and the forest was a much better place to learn about Diabetes than in hospital.”

Explaining the benefits of the sessions, Paediatric Diabetes Nurse, Lynne Anderson commented, “We have made the transition from primary to secondary school smoother by empowering our young people with skills around effective ways to manage their Diabetes with the support of their families along with the Paediatric Diabetes Team. The extra challenges which young people with Diabetes face can be daunting such as new menu choices in canteens, extra PE activities and after school clubs, not to mention the bus journeys to and from school.

“Being able to get together with others in the same position as themselves gives them a boost in confidence and also the chance to just have fun in the forest setting, without the worry of being different to anyone else. Many of the parents who dropped the children off were also able to get a coffee together and chat about things from their perspective too.”

A Paediatric Diabetes Specialist Dietitian also attended the sessions and provided education and advice on issues around nutritional concerns, such as, carbohydrate counting or sports management associated with their Diabetes.

Play is essential to the social, emotional, cognitive and physical well-being of children, as it is a great way for them to develop resiliency as they learn to co-operate, overcome challenges and negotiate with others. It allows parents to be fully engaged and time to bond with their children to see the world from the perspective of their child. Children with Type 1 Diabetes can experience difficulties with transition into adolescence which can be associated with poorer adherence to treatment, deteriorating metabolic control and increased risk for psychological disorders.

NIFSA is a registered charity that promotes, develops and delivers sustainable environmental education programmes.  The philosophy of Forest Schools is to encourage and inspire individuals through positive outdoor experiences. Forest schools have demonstrated success with children of all ages who visit the same local woodlands on a regular basis and through play and discovery, have the opportunity to learn about the natural environment, how to handle risks and most importantly to use their own initiative to solve problems and co-operate with others.