The third International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disability (IASSID) Europe conference took place in Rome from Wednesday 22nd to Friday 24th October 2010- The conference took place in two hotels located in the west of the city and around 750 delegates attended, a good smattering of whom were from Ireland.
Each morning and afternoon session opened with a plenary lecture followed by 13 concurrent sessions. In all this meant that over 600 presentations were made to the delegates over the three days. Topics that were discussed included families and parenting, health matters, ageing, quality of life, education and employment and the particular issues associated with people with profound intellectual and multiple disability.
Interesting plenary presentations included Dr Ted Brown on recent advances in the understanding of genetics of ID. Dr Brown suggested that the importance of genetic factors in autism was less than had previously been thought. He also outlined treatments that are being developed for Fragile X syndrome. In another plenary session Michael Verdugo spoke of the way that empirically based quality of life indicators have recently been developed. He also outlined innovative approaches for improving performance and accountability of organisations that support people with intellectual disability.
My own interest lies in the understanding people with profound intellectual and multiple disability a group of people who have not been greatly researched in the past. There were however plentiful papers at this conference some which considered advances in the understanding of how people with PIMD communicate, others looked at developing their thinking skills. The use of stories and storytelling was explained by several presenters as being of great importance for this group of people and in general an upbeat atmosphere regarding how research could improve people’s lives seemed to predominate in the sessions that I attended. While most of the delegates were academics and researchers, there were some parents attending and their presence was very much encouraged as was the presence of several service users.
The novelist Anthony Powell contends that delegates to international conferences live like ‘temporary kings’. Such was not my experience, although the conference was efficiently run, intellectually stimulating and well worth attending, the food was rather stodgy and the connectivity not up to standard. By contrast Rome was busy, bustling and full of antiquities and as a bonus the autumnal weather was beautiful.
I left the conference on the Friday night thinking that while I had learnt much from the conference presentations I had also had some interesting conversations with other delegates and perhaps that networking aspect was the most important element of the conference.