BY SYDNEY BECKER
During the fall of 2022, Brittany Powers, a doctoral candidate in health behavior science and promotion in the College of Health Sciences at the university, noticed there was a lack of mental health support for students with intellectual disabilities (ID) at the university. While there was accessible help for other students, according to Powers, students with intellectual disabilities seemed to be overlooked when it came to mental health and support.
“There was a gap in support for students with ID,” Powers said.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, an intellectual disability “involves problems with general mental abilities” that affect intellectual functioning, which includes learning, problem solving and judgment skills, as well as adaptive functioning, which includes communication and independent living skills. Autism spectrum disorder and cerebral palsy, for instance, often co-occurs in individuals with intellectual disability.
Although the university offers support for wellbeing, in the form of the Wellbeing Center at Warner Hall, Powers saw that this may not be what students with ID need when it comes to mental health.
Powers launched a pilot program aimed to help students with intellectual disabilities in the fall semester. By compiling previous research, Powers created the MIND/MOVE Yourself program.
The MIND/MOVE Yourself program consists of a six-week workshop in a group format that meets twice per week for one-hour sessions. Within this workshop, there are two major components: a guided self-help with education about techniques to reduce stress, and a mind and body yoga practice.
Before implementing this program, Powers collaborated with other programs at and outside of the university, including the university’s Career and Life Studies Certificate Program, East Stroudsburg University’s Career, Independent Living and Learning Studies program, and Villanova University’s VUnited Scholars program. Through this collaboration, Powers gained more insight into what to include in her own program.
Powers explained how the early stages of developing this program involved a lot of analysis and literature review.
“There’s really not a whole lot out there in research,” Powers said. “I took pieces of different evidence-based strategies and brought them together.”
Powers began by taking a more in-depth look at stressors faced by college students with intellectual disabilities. She held focus groups, got student feedback and went through the data she collected. Students reported that the yoga component and mindful breathing practices were especially helpful, according to Powers.
Sophomore mechanical engineering major Ryan Robison saw the many potential benefits of the program, though he has not personally participated in it.
“It sounds like a pretty useful program,” Robison said. “I think it could help [students with ID] by giving them a reliable place to go that would not discriminate.”
As time goes on, Powers plans for the program to evolve and adapt to better suit students with intellectual disabilities. Some of these changes include a more discussion-based format, as well as having it be a part of the curriculum for students with intellectual disabilities.
“If it was built into students’ curriculum, we found that it was 14 times more likely [that] students would attend the session,” Powers said.
Powers has also held focus groups in order to better understand what the program needs, and allowed students to rate the program themselves.
“We found that the program was rated high in terms of its acceptability,” Powers said.
Through this feedback and other research, Powers was able to gain a better understanding of how to continue to adapt this program to fit the needs of students with intellectual disabilities in the future. Although the program is still relatively new, its creation can possibly open new doors for mental health and mindfulness catered to students with intellectual disabilities at the university.