By Karyn Harvey, PhD, Assistant Executive Director of Quality Supports
What does it feel like to have an intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD)? On one level, the answer to that question is different for each person. No two people have the same experience. On the other hand, however, there are some universalities. One is that having an intellectual or developmental disability means experiencing a certain degree of social trauma: bullying, exclusion and/or rejection. It may also mean experiencing a significant degree of loneliness and isolation.
Recent studies have shown the effects of social exclusion and/or rejection on the brain. In one particular study, participants were included in a game and then deliberately excluded. Their brains were connected to electrodes that could then show which part of the brain was stimulated and thus active during the experience. When participants were excluded, all of their brains fired in the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of our brain that fires when we feel physical pain. They experienced exclusion from a simple game as physical pain. Imagine what people who have been rejected over and over again have experienced.
The Quality Supports Division at The Arc Baltimore has been attempting to reduce the pain and suffering due to exclusion, rejection and loneliness through increased in-house therapy from the psychology department, trauma and sensitivity training for Arc staff, and finally, through involvement in our Connections program.
In-house therapy, or in-vivo therapy, as we have called it, takes place in the context of people’s day rather than in an isolated setting. The psychology staff visit individuals at their centers and in their homes and have therapeutic and supportive interactions with them. Our psychology staff is trained in trauma therapy, including EMDR and Positive Identity Development, which is an approach that I originated several years ago and is being used in several clinics serving people with I/DD throughout the country.
In addition, we have revised our yearly behavioral supports refresher training to include a trauma-informed care model that assists staff in working with individuals in a manner in which they can provide both emotional and behavioral supports. The training department has also revised a number of trainings to increase staff participation and enhance more acute awareness of the many issues involved with disabilities.
Finally, the Connections program facilitates social engagement through sponsoring a variety of social events in which single individuals with I/DD can meet friends or find partners. There is a team of dedicated Arc staff and volunteers who work to ensure the success of these events. Through generous donations, we’ve organized cruises, formal dance events and plenty of community-based dating opportunities. We are determined to expand this program in order to enhance social connections and increase meaningful relationships.
If you would like more information about trauma or our efforts, please contact me at 410-296-2272 x 5144 or firstname.lastname@example.org.