The International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities (IASSID) is the largest international scientific association concerned with research into intellectual and allied developmental disabilities. It has been in existence for 50 years and has members from around the world. The IASSID Academy, set up in 2006, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, is nested in its parent organisation. It has its own Board of 12 members from 10 countries. Its aim is to provide up-to-date research knowledge and practice around the world through workshops, courses and consultations. This article is intended to introduce readers to the Academy as it works to expand its activities around the world.
The Academy’s mission
The IASSID Academy is a young organisation, still in a developmental stage. Although authorised in 2006, its structure and organisation was recognised and approved in the following year and its first workshops and seminars took place later in 2007.
The Academy Board was charged with development and delivery of education and training around the world across various disciplinary areas, and to address a variety of issues across the lifespan of people with intellectual disabilities and their families. The development of the Academy provided an opportunity for a central resource of information and knowledge on issues related to intellectual disabilities provided by an international pool of knowledgeable colleagues as educators and trainers. Potentially the scope of the Academy is considerable, as it is supported by the broad interests and expertise of members linked through IASSID, which is a community of professionals working in the research and applied areas of developmental disabilities.
Two major questions influenced the development of the Academy: (1) how might we translate the research evidence generated by the activities of the IASSID Special Interest Research Groups (SIRGs—groups of colleagues interested in studying particular aspects of Intellectual disabilities)? and (2) how might IASSID increase its engagement with and service to communities in developing countries which lack the research and applied infrastructure necessary to develop evidence-based intervention and support?
Today the Academy provides workshops, courses and consultations at pre-and post-conferences of IASSID and at regional and international meetings. Also of considerable success are stand-alone workshops, seminars and consultations taking place in a steadily increasing range of countries. Certificates of attendance or satisfactory performance are provided to participants.
As the Academy grows, it expects to become increasingly involved and responsive to priority groups, such as, major NGOs, governmental entities and research institutes and universities, amongst others. Critical in this aim is support to frontline and grass-roots developments often provided through local communities. The Academy has set as a primary target consultation and joint ventures with international organisations such as Down Syndrome International, and country organisations including, for example, Confe and Junta de Asistencia Privada del Distrito Federal in Mexico, and field agencies as in Yayasan Sultan Idris Shah, Ipoh Malaysia, as well as university departments and schools as in Ss Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, Macedonia.
The success of the stand-alone ventures in low.and middle.income countries represents a breakthrough for IASSID, as these have proved popular. Such ventures aim to provide Academy workshops of high standard which meet the needs for education and training for professional and support staff as well as parents, many of whom would be unlikely to attend conferences because of the costs involved.
Another major aim is to provide workshops and seminars in more developed and economically wealthy countries concerned with cutting edge research and the application of that research.
A third aspect of the Academy’s work is to provide advice and support when requested by colleagues attending these meetings who face particular challenging issues in their own countries. As a result, the Academy has started running consultative meetings relating to inclusion, deinstitutionalisation, and the development of services for those who are ageing. These have been held in several countries including China, South Africa and Hong Kong.
The process and content of Academy activities
IASSID’s own members represent a wide range of research and applied expertise which can be translated into local practice by providing information and practical examples of best practices—while ensuring that local needs, knowledge and culture are taken into account.
The Academy always consults with local representatives in the design and delivery of stand-alone courses and workshops and at times it is requested to provided expertise to a wide range of developmental and later-onset disabilities
(e.g. in a consultation in Hong Kong).
Starting in October 2007, around 40 workshops or courses have been carried out in 11 countries, involving around 2500 registrants. Several of the workshops have been linked to international and regional conferences run by IASSID. Others have been stand-alone courses and workshops, most often held by invitation.
The developments to date appear successful in terms of meeting initial demand and country interests. There remains a need to have workshops on research specifically in areas such as ‘assessment and research design and methodology’. The experience of the Academy at the Cape Town IASSID quadrennial congress (2008) and the Asia-Pacific IASSID congress in Singapore (2009) exemplified this aspect of the Academy’s activities. The Singapore 2009 experience of the Academy is a clear example of how the Academy’s packaging can prove most effective when developed in consultation with local groups. The packaging around the Congress in Singapore took advantage of Academy faculty who were attending there and whose travel and related expenses were largely covered by non-Academy resources. All speakers provide their work on a voluntary basis, as do the members of the IASSID Academy. Several organisations have subsequently raised the issue of further courses or workshops and participants from all workshops have requested further involvement from the Academy. Mexico has made a preliminary inquiry for further Academy collaboration, including basic research requirements and needs.
IASSID now functions in a different world than when it was first established some fifty years ago. During that time it has accomplished much, but changes in technologies, communications and the world research environment have opened up new opportunities. One of these is the pressing need for dissemination of research and its application to the developing world beyond Australia/New Zealand, North America and Europe, where IASSID has traditional played an important role. The emerging work of the Academy has revealed a hunger for education and training and nurturing of young researchers and practitioners. The workshops that have been held by the Academy and implemented in the last three years reflect a need in the developing world, which requests and requires up-to-date information on research, application and policy. This, however, is dependent on a cooperative partnership between host countries and the IASSID Academy. The workshops provided in Singapore clearly indicated the importance of this for local professionals groups, as did the workshops and courses held in Malaysia (Ipoh), Hong Kong, India (Visakhapatnam) and China (Beijing) in 2009, and in Greece (Thessaloniki), the Netherlands (Utrecht) and Macedonia (Skopje) in 2010 (prior to the pre-conference workshops in Rome, where we ran 10 workshops covering a broad range of content). Sometimes the workshops are attended by a small number of interested registrants, but most are much larger and some have included hundred of participants, as in Mexico and China. Workshop content ranges through issues of quality of life, exclusion and inclusion, behavioural management, early education, and health. A full list of titles in given on the Academy website.
The host countries are capitalising upon the impact of the Academy’s collective efforts. For example, as a result of the course offered in India, the local parents who attended mobilised and formed an official association which is now engaged in lobbying the government for more services for their adult children and which has developed a support network for its members. In Hong Kong, a collective planning effort is being undertaken to address the needs of their elderly population of adults with intellectual disabilities. In other instances, professionals attending courses have launched new efforts of introducing the scientific method into their agencies’ or organisations’ efforts, and they are basing changes in productivity on empirical practices. These have included follow-up consulting requests around such concerns as de-institutionalisation, inclusion and advocacy.
The Academy within IASSID looks forward to working with agencies, both international and country-based, in the development of relevant and supportive programmes of education and consultation around the world. Our services are available through the volunteer efforts of IASSID members whose knowledge and expertise cover all aspects of intellectual disabilities. They represent a wide range of professions in both research and application. The feedback to date has been positive from all sectors. Interest and support have come from agencies and universities, as well as, critically, from parents and allied social organisations concerned with the field of disabilities.