New Training to Support Persons with IDD during Pandemic

April 26, 2021

A team of faculty at the Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing at St. John Fisher College is creating a four-module training to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities (IDD) and their caregivers handle the unique challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A $48,738 grant from the New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council will fund the development of the training modules. The grant was secured in a collaboration between the Golisano Institute, which is housed in the Wegmans School of Nursing, Daemen College, and Fisher’s Office of Sponsored Programs.

The goal of the training is to provide families and care providers with skills and resources to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and maintain the health, safety, and inclusion of persons with IDD within their communities. Recent studies have shown that individuals with IDD, due to preexisting conditions such as diabetes, and who already experience significant health disparities may be particularly susceptible to the health consequences of COVID-19 including pneumonia cardiovascular disease. Research has also shown that increased isolation in response to the pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of these individuals and their families. These increased risks make it critical for this population to adhere to the safety measures that will allow them to engage safely in their communities.

The modules, which will be delivered online, will provide tips and tools on how to help people with IDD increase their comfort about wearing face masks; help decrease face touching; maintain social distancing consistent with health and safety recommendations; and provide training for family caregivers on the proper way to don and doff personal protective equipment.

“The first three modules are about providing caregivers with the skills to help their family members with IDD reduce anxieties that may arise from infectious disease safety protocols, such a mask wearing or social distancing,” said Dr. Dianne Cooney Miner, executive director of the Golisano Institute. “In the last module, we’re focused on giving them additional tools to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.”

While the training modules are in response to COVID-19, Cooney Miner said it could have applications beyond the pandemic.

“When individuals with IDD have the tools to reduce their anxiety, regardless of the situation, they have more opportunities to access and participate in their community safely,” she said.

The Golisano Institute is bringing together an interdisciplinary team to assist in the creation of the curriculum, including nurses, educators, and behavior analysts from the Institute, Mental Health Counseling Program at Fisher, and the Department of Applied Behavior Analysis at Daemen College. Cooney Miner and Dr. Deborah Napolitano, consultant and adjunct professor at Fisher, will serve as co-investigators on the grant.

Napolitano, who serves as an assistant professor in Daemen College’s Department of Applied Behavior Analysis and her colleague Kellie Kotwicki, will lend their expertise to the development of the curriculum.

“We are really grateful to the DDPC for recognizing this need for families and their loved ones related to health and safety. These modules will be useful far beyond the pandemic due to their focus on teaching strategies for families around critical skills like how to effectively teach and how to help reduce anxiety over sensory-related challenges,” Napolitano said.

The team anticipates a rollout of the first module during the early months of 2021. For more information about the Golisano Institute for Developmental Disability Nursing website.