Why are so Many Health Professionals Uncomfortable Serving Individuals with IDD?

Physical Therapy, Train-Train-Trainer Session

Physical Therapy, Train-Train-Trainer Session

The area of intellectual disabilities has often been described as the Cinderella discipline of medicine, Prasher & Janicki (2003). Yet, more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability of which nearly 200 million are an intellectual or developmental disability (IDD), and the prevalence is on the rise (World Health Organization [WHO], 2011).

Individuals with IDD experience poorer health than the general population (Krahn, Hammond, & Turner, 2006). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Disability and Health Data System (DHDS), reports that the disparities faced by individuals with IDD include the following:  (a) more complex health conditions, (b) limited access to quality health care and health promotion, (c) lack of preventative screenings, (d) poorly managed chronic conditions, (e) obesity, and (f) mental and emotional health problems (DHDS, 2012).  Inevitably, health prevention programs and health care delivery tailored to people with IDD is very important.  However, future health students are entering their fields ill prepared to teach and provide effective services this population.  The genesis of this issue starts within the halls of academia.

Preparing future health professionals academically to provide effective healthcare and multi-disciplinary services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) seems to be missing from many university curricula and formal health training programs. Existing curricula for these professionals lack information that includes the specific needs of the IDD population.

Presentation to Students at Keiser University

Presentation to Students at Keiser University

It is critical that aspiring health professionals recognize the challenges that come with providing healthcare and services to the IDD population. It is necessary to prepare students to promote inclusion of these individuals into their areas of practice, that is, promote access to quality health services and to help create intervention programs based on the myriads of health issues found in this population.  Experiential learning with a qualified mentor prepares individuals may be ideal.   Hopefully, we will see some drastic changes where this topic is concerned in the near future.

Here are some recommendations for preparing health professionals to provide care  to individuals with IDD:

  • Increase didactic and clinical preparation of health school graduates regarding the care  of individuals with special health needs
  • Develop appropriate curricula/  modules that provides opportunities to cater this population (Holder et. al, 2005)
  • Facilitate internships, clinical rotations and volunteer with opportunities with facilities that serves the IDD population
FIU Dietetic Students/Clinical Rotation at Special Olympics Healthy Community

FIU Dietetic Students/Clinical Rotation at Special Olympics Healthy Community


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disability and Health Data System. (2012). Retrieved from http://dhds.cdc.gov.

Holder, M., Waldman, H. B., & Hood, H. (2009). Preparing health professionals to provide care to individuals with disabilities. Int J Oral Sci, 1(2), 66-71.

Krahn, G. L., Hammond, L., & Turner, A. (2006) A cascade of disparities: Health and

health care access for people with intellectual disabilities. Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews, 12, 70–82.

Prasher, P.V., & Janicki, P.M. (2003) Physical health of adults with intellectual disabilities (1st ed.). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability. Geneva, Switzerland: Author. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/accessible_en.pdf


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