How local transition students can help

Spend time with any teenager, whether they are neurotypical or have a disability, and you’ll soon learn that mood swings are normal. But in some young adults, extreme moods or behaviors can signal a mental health problem that needs attention. Diagnosing mental health is rarely easy. In youth with IDD, it’s especially hard.

The usual tests for mental health issues don’t work well for people who communicate differently. And signs that may signal problems in neurotypical students, like dropping grades or agitated behavior, may not apply to students with IDD. Doctors need a different way to assess mental health in youth with IDD. Fortunately, new tools are in the works – and local transition students can help.


New tools to assess mental health

Dr. James Sinclair, at the University of Oregon’s Center on Human Development, has been creating a different way to assess mental health in youth and young adults experiencing intellectual disability. He is developing these tools for the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), to be used nationwide.

As Sinclair explained, “A person may seem to be withdrawn, or anxious, or agitated, but their behaviors may not mean the same thing if they have intellectual disabilities. Clinicians need a valid tool that is appropriate for intellectual disabilities.” Avoiding eye contact, agitated behaviors, and agreeing to suggestions all can mislead a diagnosis. Sinclair’s method avoids yes-or-no questions, and uses pictures to identify moods and symptoms.

Before the assessment tool is completed, Sinclair needs to gather more data. This spring, his team will interview young adults with IDD, along with their caregivers. Transition students from Central Oregon can be part of this survey process. By participating, they’ll help create an important tool to diagnose mental health disorders.


Be part of the survey

To be part of the survey, students need to fit specific requirements. Sinclair’s team would like to interview youth between the ages of 14 and 24, who have a documented intellectual disability and an IQ of 70 or lower. If needed, the team can give a short IQ test or adaptive assessment before the interview.

Students volunteering for the survey do not need to have any mental health problems. Every student does need to have a caregiver go through the interview as well. The caregiver may be a parent, grandparent, or teacher –anyone who has known them for more than a year and can judge changes in their behavior. Most interviews take place at the University of Oregon, but the research team can travel to Central Oregon if travel is a hinderance to participation. The interview process takes about two hours.

Volunteers who participate in the survey get more than the satisfaction of helping others. The student and the caregiver each receive a $50 gift card, for either Amazon or Fred Meyer.

Ready to be part of the survey? Contact James Sinclair by email at or by phone at 949-275-6729.

Photo courtesy of Jen Theodore on Unsplash