People with both intellectual disability and mental illness are a small population — less than one percent of people worldwide. But it’s a small population with very big needs.
In 1983, Robert Fletcher, DSW, ACSW founded an organization to serve that often-overlooked population. The result is the National Association for the Dually Diagnosed (NADD).
At the time of NADD’s founding, it seemed that neither the mental health system nor the mental retardation system wanted to take responsibility for individuals who were dealing with both sets of challenges. At that time, people with intellectual disability (ID) were routinely either misdiagnosed or misunderstood. Individual distress and challenging behaviors were often seen as a function of their intellectual disability rather than symptoms of mental illness. Dr. Fletcher and his colleagues created NADD to help bridge the gap by advocating for services and providing professional development to improve the system of available care. In the years since its inception, the organization has been at the forefront of advances in assessment, treatment, and policy for this under-recognized and underserved population.
25th Anniversary Celebration
NADD celebrated its 25th anniversary at its annual conference from Nov. 12 – 15 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Over 500 people from eight countries including Israel, Australia, the UK, and Italy, as well as the U.S. and Canada met to exchange information and network with one another.
Keynote speaker David Hingsberger, an internationally known expert in the rights of people with developmental disabilities, spoke eloquently about the long-term effects of violence on people with ID. He called on all conference participants to become actively involved in erasing the language of hate that so often separates people with ID from their community. “Re-tard” is hate language. It stereotypes and diminishes people. Insistence on respectful speech, says Hingsberger, will go a long way toward helping people with ID feel they have a rightful place in their world.
He went on to talk about how people with disabilities are frequently told to “just ignore it” when others put them down or hurt them. Saying that is, in essence, telling a person who has been hurt to shut up. It compounds the original insult by demanding the person’s silence. This is how social brutality is reinforced and groups of people are marginalized. Equality comes from standing up instead of shutting up. Hingsberger urges us to stand up and be part of a movement that asserts the right of all people to be treated with respect. Every contact we make with people with ID, he maintains, can either continue trauma or promote healing.
Two days of seminars, symposia, and presentations followed. The conference offered over 60 different educational sessions and 22 poster sessions. Topics included cutting-edge information about psychopharmacology, best practices in interventions, family support needs, staff training programs and research.
One of the many things that makes NADD special is its encouragement of eclecticism. There is much yet to learn about the dually diagnosed population. Active inquiry and exchange of ideas among the professional disciplines as well as interested laypeople continue to bring the field forward.
Consistent with its educational mission, NADD publishes a large library of training materials, CDs and DVDs to disseminate research and support staff training. The publication of the Diagnostic Manual – Intellectual Disabilities (DM-ID) last October was the culmination of years of work and is a major step forward in providing a consistent framework for diagnosis of mental illness in those with intellectual disability (see Psych Central’s review). The NADD Bulletin started out as a two-page newsletter and is now a respected journal in the field of intellectual disabilities. The debut of a new journal, The Journal of Mental Health Research in Intellectual Disabilities, was a highlight of the conference.
Happy 25th Birthday, NADD! I’m looking forward to your 26th in New Orleans.
To learn more about NADD, please visit the theNADD.org website.