This conference took place in Melbourne, Australia from the 14th to the 19th of August 2016. In addition to the four days of the conference itself, from Monday to Thursday there were a number of pre- and post-conference events. These included a direct service worker conference on the 14th of August, and a number of workshops and service visits on the 19th of August. This resulted in a very packed schedule for everyone who attended, so the following summary just gives a taste of the scope and variety of content rather than a full summary of the entire event.
The conference itself began with a keynote speech from Professor Roy McConkey, who spoke about sport and the need to support people with intellectual disabilities to be involved in sport. He spoke about the benefits of sport both socially and physically, and the roles of organisations like Special Olympics in promoting sport. One of the panellists, Alex Devine, detailed the importance of being part of Special Olympics both as an athlete and as a mentor to others who want to become involved in sport.
Following this keynote, delegates had the difficult task of choosing which session to attend as sessions were available on a variety of topics such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Early Childhood, Ethics of Participation, Family Quality of Life, Health, Education and Assessment. I attended a session on health checks which involved four different presentations dealing with aspects of health checks for people with intellectual disability. The presenters gave details of their projects, services and experiences. All identified the importance of health checks for people at all ages and the issues when problems are not identified early.
A further session focused on Diabetes, with Professor Ruth Northway summarising a systematic review on the prevalence and experience of Diabetes amongst people with intellectual disability. Dr Laurence Taggart and Professor Michael Brown also talked about aspects of current research on education for people about Diabetes and the experiences of professionals. After the days sessions, people could view posters again on a variety of topics, for example Communication and Language; Quality of Life; Ethics and Human Rights; Sports and Recreation. There were also evening roundtables examining subjects in more detail, such as the steps involved in publication and exploring research methodologies in inclusive education.
Again there was a variety of topic choices on offer, some with a focus on individual areas such as Cerebral Palsy or Successful Aging. One very popular session called “No research about us without us” was moderated by Professor Patricia O’Brien. Presenters spoke about projects that involved an inclusive research approach, the importance of quality checking and also about creating spaces that are inclusive in mainstream settings such as Universities.
I moderated a session that focused on interventions in educational settings and found them extremely interesting. There was a session on mental arithmetic for adolescents. The researcher asked students to solve addition and subtraction problems, and found that using fingers and gestures can improve number learning. Function-based interventions were researched in an inclusive school setting, finding that they have benefits as they impact on challenging and appropriate behaviours.
The final session was about a project teaching financial literacy skills to young adults using self-directed video prompts. This proved very interesting, as people could use modern technology to prompt themselves and increase independence. This was followed again by an extensive and different poster presentation session; people could look at posters on Aging, Health Issues, Families, Communication and Language, and Inclusive Education. The evening roundtables dealt with diverse topics, such as “Dealing with the social construct of sin; A necessary move in building an integrated spiritual community”, or “Interdisciplinary practice framework for paediatric intellectual disability mental health”.
Proceedings opened with a keynote by Professor Michael Guralnick, who spoke about early intervention programmes and the importance of ensuring that these programmes are based on comprehensiveness, continuity and relationships. Programmes that include these three elements are more likely to be effective for children and their families. The wide variety of sessions offered ranged from those that focused on interventions in the area of health, communication and emotional well-being, to the much-discussed area of social media.
The session on social media looked at risks, its use by those with more severe communication difficulties, its role in supporting friendships, and interventions to increase the use of social media for those who use ACC. The session on friendships was of particular interest, as the researcher explained the study had focused on the role of social media for young people living in rural communities. The young people were given training in the use of social media, which helped their ability to use it and contributed to their social networks. This was the final poster presentation day, with a majority looking at different aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorders and a smaller amount on such topics as Inclusive Education; Down Syndrome; Forensic Issues; Labour and Employment, and Inclusive Research.
The final day of the Conference had one session devoted to Disability services in Ireland. Professor Roy McConkey spoke about relocation of people to new accommodation, and the contrast between personalised arrangements and group home placements, as well as the role of management and support staff. Fiona Keogh talked about the learning from 54 Irish projects on how best to support people to live self-directed lives. Emma Nicholson described the evaluation of novel and innovative respite services in Ireland. This day also provided me with the opportunity to speak about my own research into the experiences of people with intellectual disability in Post-Secondary and Higher Education. My findings highlighted the value people have in education and the opportunities it offers for social networks, independence and possibly employment.
As mentioned at the outset, this Conference offered an extensive programme with a variety of research papers, policy documents, discussion and networking. It involved people with intellectual disability in a meaningful way, with opportunities both to attend and participate. Overall I feel IASSIDD are creating an environment of inclusion and sharing that is not available to such an extent anywhere else.
Abstracts of all the presentations are available from the
Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, Special Issue: Global Partnerships: Enhancing Research, Policy and Practice, July-August 2016, Volume 60, Issue 7-8.
Details of IASSIDD are available from https://www.iassidd.org/