The psychological impact of abuse has been conceptualised as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but there has been little work on understanding whether this conceptualisation is appropriate and useful for adults with severe learning disabilities who may have limited communication skills.
The researchers in this study set out to explore whether this established conceptual framework could be useful in working with adults with learning disabilities who were victims of alleged abuse.
What they did was to use the post-traumatic stress syndrome framework to create an interview schedule to which they added some additional questions. They used this as the basis of an informant interview with 18 people with learning disabilities. The aim of the interview schedule was to elicit emotional, behavioural and physiological symptoms of alleged abuse. They administered the interview at three time points, in the 3 months immediately prior to the alleged abuse (Time 1), in the 3 months immediately after the abuse (Time 2) and in the last 3 months prior to interview (Time 3).
What they found was that following their alleged abuse, victims did experience marked increases in the frequency and severity of emotional, physiological and behavioural symptoms of psychological distress. Whilst there was some alleviation of these difficulties over time, psychological functioning for those affected remained severely compromised.
The authors conclude from their results that it is possible to use the established PTSD framework to examine the psychological impact of abuse, but that some amendments are required. They suggest that the use of these amendments alongside the framework should enable clinicians to better examine the distress of alleged victims with severe learning disabilities.
The Psychological Impact of Abuse on Men and Women with Severe Intellectual Disabilities, Roswell A et al., in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 26: 257–270