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It is estimated that 3-4% of people living in Aurora has been diagnosed with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder. In our community, that is nearly 16,000 people who have some form of developmental disability. We also know that people with developmental disabilities experience extremely high rates of abuse, neglect, bullying, and trauma. Although people with disabilities are integrated more in our community than ever before, the stigma of disability can result in isolating experiences. Research also tells us that people with developmental disabilities have less resilience to the stressors of mental illness.

It is for these reasons that the Aurora Mental Health Center developed the Aurora Center for Life Skills and Intercept Center, two specialized programs for adults and children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. These specialized programs have physicians, clinicians, case managers, and support staff who are specially trained to provide accurate assessments, adapted treatment, and culturally competent interactions with people who have developmental disabilities and their families. Both programs have been in existence for over 20 years and have been at the cutting edge in developing best practices for the treatment of people who have a dual diagnosis.

These programs have been acknowledged by the National Association for Dual Diagnosis and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and received the 2010 Eli Lilly Reintegration Award for Clinical Medicine. In our work with these national professional organizations, we have developed expertise in three important areas as it pertains to the mental health treatment of people who have developmental disabilities.

Assessment

Most mental health providers do not have experience or training working with people who have developmental disabilities. Therefore, they often are not adept at differentiating between characteristics of a developmental disability and the symptoms of mental illness. This typically leads to an over attribution of mental health symptoms to the person’s disability. This “diagnostic overshadowing” is a common problem that can lead to the denial of access to mental health care or misdiagnoses that lead to poor treatment. At Aurora Mental Health Center (AuMHC), our specialized clinicians are considered to be among the best in the state at properly diagnosing mental health issues for this population.

Treatment

At AuMHC, we have been at the forefront of our field in dispelling the myth that people who have developmental disabilities cannot benefit from psychotherapy. By adapting language and concepts so that they are concrete and repetitive, by using multi-sensory therapy techniques, and by incorporating caregivers into treatment, we have demonstrated that people who have a dual diagnosis can benefit significantly long-term from mental health treatment.

Case Management

People who have developmental disabilities often require the assistance of several different systems and agencies in their community. Primary care doctors, specialized physicians, special education services, developmental disability services, mental health providers, and advocacy groups are just a few of the supports that these families must coordinate. At AuMHC, we strive to be a “medical home” to our clients who have developmental disabilities by helping to coordinate care between agencies and providers so that families are not overwhelmed by tackling this task alone.

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