Young people with developmental disabilities to benefit from $5.2M NHMRC grant

9 March 2011

The University of Sydney will lead a new large scale study aimed at alleviating the prevalence of mental health problems experienced by people with developmental disabilities following the awarding of a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Program Grant.

The Hon Mark Butler MP, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing yesterday announced the $5,242,755 grant which will allocate much needed funds to address this growing public health problem.

Prof Stewart Einfeld
Prof Stewart Einfeld

According to Chief Investigator Professor Stewart Einfeld, Chair of Mental Health at the Faculty of Health Sciences and Senior Scientist at the Brain and Mind Research Institute, the prevalence of mental health conditions in young people with developmental disability has only relatively recently been appreciated and understood.

"Persons with developmental disabilities can experience any of the same mental health conditions as anyone else but have a much increased vulnerability, almost three times that of the general population."

"Furthermore social factors such as stigma, trauma and bullying can often accelerate or make the problem worse," he says.

Previous work by Professor Einfeld and colleagues on the Australian Child to Adult Development longitudinal study provided motivation for this new research by identifying that mental health problems in people with developmental disabilities begin early and persist without intervention.

"The previous study also demonstrated that the genetic cause of intellectual disability has a strong influence on behavioural and emotional problems, for example there is a vast difference between the severity of behavioural disturbance with Down syndrome subjects compared to those with Prader Willi syndrome."

"This led us to believe that interventions needed to be tailored to take into account the cause of the disability and the behavioural problems," comments Professor Einfeld.

Working with young people aged 4 - 12 years; the study will build on the Stepping Stones program, a component of the highly regarded evidence-based Triple P -positive parenting program specifically designed for families who have a child with a disability.

Under the grant new modules based on the specific causes of developmental disabilities will be developed and trialed across three Australian states to determine if this can lessen the problem.

Commencing in 2012 and running over five years, the program is lead by Professor Stewart Einfeld in collaboration with Professor Bruce Tonge of Monash University and Professor Matt Sanders from the University of Queensland.

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