We applaud UIC Associate Professor Kristin Berg and the Behavioral Health Stratified Treatment (BEST project) for seeking to better understand the needs of young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (Chicago Tribune, Sunday January 9, 2022, Teens with disabilities are 5 times more likely to suffer from mental, emotional, and behavioral health disorders, UIC researchers say). We at JCFS Chicago share the project’s goals of early identification and treatment of mental health challenges to improve health and vocational trajectories across the life.
JCFS Chicago’s family of services includes mental health counseling, integrated pediatric therapies, supported employment, and assistance for families supporting members with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) including specialized clinicians who work with people with IDD and their families around mental health needs. Over the past two years, we have seen first-hand the increased mental health need among our adolescents whose experiences parallel the national trends cited in the article. We have also seen how providing integrated, collaborative services can improve a person’s ability to benefit from services and impact their well-being.
Our licensed clinical social workers who provide therapy to people with IDD concur with the researchers that these individuals often come to us with a history of trauma. Additionally, experiences of discrimination and barriers to accessing services further compound the mental and emotional well-being of people with IDD.
In our experience providing mental health services to people with IDD, paying attention to sensory, communication, and motor needs are important considerations. For example,
- Our speech-language, occupational, and physical therapists consult with our mental health professionals to support complex communication needs.
- We provide environmental consultation to help adjust the seating or space to make it more comfortable and supportive of an individual’s needs and preferences. This allows a person to focus on their mental health without having to put as much attention toward other barriers.
These types of considerations can enhance a mental health session and better allow for a person’s mental health needs to be addressed.
Additionally, providing families with education, skills-building, and respite can create a more stable home that can better meet the needs of a family member with IDD.
“E.T.” is a person on the autism spectrum. She has also experienced significant trauma and has a diagnosed, related disorder. ET has been living with a guardian for many years and currently holds a job at her favorite fast-food restaurant, where her employer has a program to support people with IDD. ET has struggled with issues common to people with both IDD and mental health concerns:
- Difficulty getting an appropriate mental health diagnosis
- Systems, and people, who see her disability first
- Barriers to receiving appropriate services. For example, the onerous and repetitive documentation which will prove very challenging once she may no longer have a caregiver to support her.
With the support of a JCFS Response for Teens clinical social worker, ET is getting the mental health supports she needs. This bolsters her ability to manage the areas of her life impacted by her disability.
JCFS Chicago sees firsthand how integrated, collaborative services best support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We welcome all efforts to learn more directly from people and their families about what they need so that we can respond.