Posted by Melissa Demir

path in the woodsAt the AAIDD (American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) annual conference in Orlando, Florida this past June, I met a pastor who began his career in an institution, was part of the de-institutionalization movement, and now provides religious services in inclusive community settings. I listened to a woman with Down syndrome share her story of self-advocacy to achieve a legal status of supported decision making rather than as a ward with a guardian. Social workers from across the country gathered to discuss the importance of using an ‘ecological' approach, which involves considering social and environmental factors that impact a person, to empower individuals with disabilities to set and achieve meaningful goals.

Speaking with colleagues and attending presentations about mental health services for people with I/DD (Intellectual and Development Disabilities) was very informative. I was struck by the continuing distinction and ‘siloing' of disability services and mental health treatment. Emerging research demonstrates the importance of weaving these services together, and I have observed in my clinical work at JF&CS the positive outcomes that can occur when services are provided in an integrated model. Ultimately, societal attitudes, policy, and resources are what impact the delivery of these services. It is my hope that as a community, we can continue to advocate in our day-to-day conversations for the integration of these services. People with disabilities and mental health concerns, loved ones of people with disabilities, and practitioners will all play a role in transforming the industry on a larger scale.I am grateful for the stories that my clients, friends, colleagues, and others have shared with me about what it means to actually feel included. A sense of belonging and contribution is something we all seek and have a right to be able to experience in meaningful ways.

Melissa DemirMelissa Demir is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker providing counseling to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) at the Jewish Family & Children's Service Mental Health Clinic. Melissa also serves as the Interventionist for Project TEAM, a NIDRR-funded study run by Dr. Kramer at Boston University. In this role, she co-leads a self-advocacy group for teens and young adults with disabilities in accordance with research protocol. In 2013, Melissa completed a one-year LEND (Leadership and Education in Neuro-Developmental Disabilities) fellowship with Boston Children's Hospital. Melissa also has former direct care and managerial experience supporting individuals who have I/DD.