Impact Feature Issue on Supporting Wellness for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Coaching Peers to be Healthy:
Matthew's Story (sidebar)


Contributed by Lindsey Mullis, Human Development Institute, University of Kentucky, Lexington

Matthew Spire is a former HealthMessages peer coach in Kentucky. The Peer to Peer HealthMessages program, developed at the Department of Disability and Human Development, University of Illinois, Chicago, is an evidence-informed program that equips people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to be Healthy Lifestyle Coaches (HLCs). As HLCs, they share the 12-week HealthMessages program with others who have disabilities, encouraging and educating them to exercise, eat right, and lead a healthy lifestyle.

Matthew was a HLC during a pilot testing of the program in Kentucky. He taught three classes a day to 10 of his peers. He takes pride in the positive impact he had on 30 people, and beyond.

Matthew started his HealthMessages classes with 5-10 minutes of physical warm up, like jumping jacks and other exercises.

Matthew reviewing the HealthMessages material.

He did this because he wanted to “make sure the group was awake and ready to learn about health.” His favorite part of the programming was “getting people to eat healthier foods.” His classes went so well that he was invited to give a presentation about them at the University of Kentucky’s Human Development Institute, impressing the crowd with his knowledge and enthusiasm.

Matthew currently lives in a staffed residence where he continues to take his HLC role seriously by telling his roommates not to eat too many chips because of the high sodium. He routinely reminds his friends about the high sugar content in soft drinks, and leads by example, saying, “I drink 5-8 glasses of water each day.”

Matthew became interested in being a HLC because he knew that he was able to accomplish health goals that his peers had not, and he would be good at helping them be successful. He enjoyed teaching about health, saying “It was a lot of fun!” and that his peers really listened to him. Matthew would love to continue teaching the courses on a regular basis if the opportunity arises. In the meantime, he keeps reminding those around him how to make healthy choices.