My research focuses on the promotion of mental health and the treatment of mental health problems in people with developmental disabilities. People with developmental disabilities are at high risk for developing mental health problems or serious challenging behaviours at some point in their lives. Research is needed to address these mental health concerns by studying programs that can promote mental health in people with developmental disabilities, die experiences of parents of people with developmental disabilities, and the training needs of graduate students in psychology to provide mental health care to clients with developmental disabilities. More generally, Canadian psychology has an important role to play in mental health promotion for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Keywords: developmental disability, intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders, mental health
Approximately 1-3% of the population has a developmental disability (DD), which includes individuals with intellectual disabilities and/or autism spectrum disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Ouellette-Kuntz & Paquette, 2001). Individuals with DD are at high risk for developing mental healdi problems and have poorer prognosis dian typically developing individuals. In Great Britain for instance, 36% of children with DD also meet criteria for a co-occurring mental healtìi problem, a prevalence rate five times greater than in peers without DD (Emerson & Hatton, 2007), and similar rates are found in adults with DD (Cooper, Smiley, Morrison, Williamson, & Allan, 2007). Mental healdi disorders are important predictors of poor overall health in individuals with DD (Linehan, Noonan Walsh, van Schrojenstein Lantman-de VaIk, & Kerr, 2004).
As a result of the sizable population base and level of need, it is important to conduct research that investigates protective factors that bolster mental health, and there is a need for new and more effective treatment options mat rectify problems when they arise. My program of research comprises three streams that study: (a) interventions that can improve mental health in people with DD, (b) families who care for people with DD, and (c) mental health services and training that can increase access to mental health care for people with DD.
Research on Interventions
One efficient way of targeting mental healdi risk is to identify programs that serve a protective role by promoting mental health before problems arise. More specifically, I have been involved in studying Special Olympics, a sport organisation for children and adults with DD, which has long been noted by parents and professionals as a program that can enhance the self-esteem, confidence, independence, and socialization of participants (Klein, Gilman, & Zigler, 1993). My research was among the first in Canada to quantitatively examine psychological benefits of involvement, studying athlete participation in Special Olympics over a 3-year period, and finding positive changes in athletes' self-concept, and adaptive and maladaptive behaviours (Weiss & Bebko, 2009). This research identified specific program characteristics (e.g., the number of competitions and years in the program) that related to addete psychological well-being (Weiss, Diamond, Demark, & Lovald, 2003). Empirically identifying variables of import has led to a renewed focus on ensuring that sport programming results in positive psychological benefits for athletes with DD, and has informed program developers about the aspects of the program that should be emphasised (e.g., focusing on creating more opportunities for local level competitions).
Research on Families
If we are interested in prevention and intervention for people with DD, it is integral that research be directed toward understanding and supporting parents, who are significant agents in maintaining the mental health of their children across the life span. …