Denver, CO

Denver program would help intellectually, developmentally disabled

David Heitz

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Denver is in the process of launching a program that aims to improve the lives of residents with intellectual and development disabilities.

The program is START and it is a model that addresses the challenges of providing services to this segment of society.

“START is a comprehensive model of service supports that optimizes independence, treatment, and community living for individuals with intellectual and development disabilities, or IDD, and behavioral needs,” according to the Center for START Services at the University System of New Hampshire. “In the 2002 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on mental health disparities for persons with intellectual/developmental disabilities, START was cited as a model program.

The university developed the model. The city of Denver will pay the university $600,000 through Aug. 1, 2024 “to provide training and consultation for the development of a Systematic, Therapeutic, Assessment, Resources and Treatment (START) clinical team for a crisis intervention system for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities with mental/behavioral health needs and their families or caregivers,” according to a city staff report.

The city council will vote Monday on the plan.

Program rooted in positive psychology

In an online video, Dr. Joan Beasley of the University System of New Hampshire gives a clinical overview of the START program. It is rooted in positive psychology and building upon a client’s strengths. While some clients come in with reputations for being tyrants, “we debunk those reputations and look at strengths,” she said.

In serving IDD clients, it’s important to remember they have a dual tendency toward mental illness. First, they are at greater risk for it due to their disabilities. Secondly, many of them still are dealing with “the ecology of how people grew up, which can present opportunities to become more anxious and depressed.”

People with IDD have difficulties with executive function or completing a task. Sometimes that inability comes out “through behavior that is not acceptable,” Beasley said.

START focuses on families, strengths

Developed in 1988, START is family-focused and strengths-based. “What gives a person strength and purpose so they may flourish,” Beasley asks in the online video. Those strengths coupled with clinical data are “like two mints in one,” Beasley said, referring to a Certs commercial from decades ago.

Beasley said it’s important in START to value family members’ opinions about a client’s progress or lack thereof but be mindful that they are not the client. “Don’t see them as one and the same. Helping to resolve an immediate stabilizing situation with a client allows for hope and change moving forward.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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