Impact of Therapy for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

Impact of Therapy for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

Intellectual and developmental disabilities are more common than you may realize.  Folks with intellectual disabilities might experience differences in strengths and support needs that affect daily functioning in two areas: intellectual functioning such as learning, problem solving, judgment; and adaptive functioning, such as communication and independent living. These differences are often noticed in early childhood, but may not be identified until later in life. Developmental disabilities refer to differences in physical, learning, language, sensory-motor or behavior. Both intellectual and developmental disabilities impact the way individuals interact with others and their environments. It is important to create spaces and programming that help folks with a disability to thrive.  Early and ongoing support can help empower individuals on their journeys to self-advocacy, positive relationships, independence, and a lifetime of choice and opportunity.

Support for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities is centered around their strengths, needs, and the support required to hold meaningful roles at home, in educational environments, and in the community. Some services include: developmental education, family support, transition services from childhood to adulthood, social and respite services, and many different types of therapy. Therapy for individuals with these disabilities and their families can address a wide range of emotional, psychological, and practical challenges associated with navigating disabling environments and systems. Overall, therapy can help families approach challenges and barriers effectively and support their loved ones’ safety, belonging, and happiness.

Behavioral therapy can be effective for social and physical skill-building, and as an intervention for behaviors that interfere with the safety of themselves and others. It is important to recognize that certain non-harmful behaviors do not need to be changed or conditioned. For example, repetitive behaviors often seen in individuals with autism can actually help their emotional regulation, and sensory processing. Instead of changing these behaviours, to be more socially acceptable, we can foster spaces where it is safe to use these natural strategies and identify stressors that might be leading to coping behaviours.

Living with a disability can lead to feelings of frustration, anxiety, depression and shame, when there are needs that are not being met. Therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to identify and address their emotional needs. Therapy can also support the development of effective coping strategies associated with their individual needs; they might learn techniques for managing stress, frustration and self-doubt. Therapy can empower individuals in their self- advocacy and effective communication of  their required accommodations and support needs in different settings. This self confidence opens the doors to more choice, opportunities, and well-being. To address feelings of social isolation and loneliness, group programming can provide opportunities for positive social interactions, peer support, and meaningful connections. Therapy can also help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities through skill-building exercises to improve specific cognitive or executive functioning skills such as organization, time management and problem-solving.

Another important area of support for an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability, is education and support for family and caregivers. Parents may benefit from continuous counseling or family therapy and should be given opportunities to express their feelings as well. A social worker or psychotherapist with a strong understanding of disability needs and service navigation can help parents be the best caregivers they can be. 

Bloom: Child & Family Therapy is a team of experienced therapists that offer specialized services for individuals of all ages with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The warm and welcoming atmosphere at Bloom provides an opportunity for individuals and families to experience the positive impact of therapeutic modalities through identifying challenges, developing skills and building strategies that can be used in their daily life. For families, our therapists focus on psychoeducation, service navigation, striving towards independence, and the personal experiences of caregivers. Our practitioners have experience working with a wide range of presenting concerns including: anxiety; OCD; substance use; depression; neurodivergence (ADHD, ASD, learning disabilities etc); emotional regulation; positive body image; self-compassion; building and maintaining healthy relationships; social skill development; service navigation; self-advocacy; disability rights; medical trauma; family and life transitions; physical aggression; and healthy emotional release.

Overall, therapeutic support for folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities can help them learn, grow, and feel safe in expressing their needs and being their authentic selves.