Nursing Professor Receives Grant to Help People With Intellectual Disabilities

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sept. 27, 2016

For people with intellectual disabilities who display aggressive and other challenging behaviors, emergency room visits, psychiatric hospitalizations and even incarceration can become familiar occurrences. This puts a strain not only on them, but their families and communities as well. One Rush University faculty member hopes a new way of approaching these behaviors can offer more positive outcomes.

The National Institutes of Health through the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute has awarded a clinical trial grant to Sarah Ailey, PhD, APHN, professor in the Rush University College of Nursing, and her team for the Steps to Effective Problem-Solving, or STEPS, program. The purpose of the four-year clinical trial is to test the efficacy of STEPS in reducing the kinds of aggressive or challenging behaviors that isolate people with intellectual disabilities.

“Unfortunately, people with intellectual disabilities often face environments not suited to helping them problem-solve and manage behaviors related to their cognitive and functional limitations,” says Ailey. “They may face contact with emergency departments, psychiatric units and/or the criminal justice system that are traumatic for them and little suited to their needs. This is an all too common experience.”

Social problem-solving training programs for people with intellectual disabilities have had positive behavioral results, says Ailey, but most have been conducted in clinical or forensic settings. STEPS differs in that it is a community-based preventive intervention delivered to people with intellectual disabilities and the residential staff  in their group homes, using the group environment and staff participation to facilitate improved social problem-solving skills.

STEPS will be compared to an attention-control nutrition program also delivered to people with intellectual disabilities and their residential staff in their group homes. Ailey is excited to put the new program in action.

“We will test whether using the STEPS program reduces behaviors leading to negative outcomes,” she says. “If so, it will be a useful addition to community-based supports for people with intellectual disabilities.”