A review of cognitive impairments in children with intellectual disabilities: Implications for cognitive behaviour therapy

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Journal Article
British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2017, 56 (2), pp. 189 - 207
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© 2017 The British Psychological Society Objective: Nearly half of children with intellectual disability (ID) have comorbid affective disorders. These problems are chronic if left untreated and can significantly impact upon future vocational, educational, and social opportunities. Despite this, there is a paucity of research into effective treatments for this population. Notably, one of the most supported of psychological therapies, cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), remains largely uninvestigated in children with ID. The current review considers the neuropsychological profile of children and adolescents with mild to moderate ID, with a view to informing how CBT might best be adapted for children and adolescents with ID. Method: Narrative review of literature considering the neuropsychological profiles of children and adolescents with ID, with specific focus upon attention, memory, learning, executive functioning, and communication. Studies were identified through SCOPUS, PsycINFO, and PubMed databases, using combinations of the key words ‘intellectual disability’, ‘learning disability’, ‘neuropsychology’, ‘attention’, ‘learning’, ‘memory’, ‘executive function’, ‘language’, and ‘reading’. Results: Children with ID have significant deficits in attention, learning, memory, executive functions, and language. These deficits are likely to have a negative impact upon engagement in CBT. Suggestions for adapting therapy to accommodate these wide ranging deficits are proposed. Conclusions: There are multiple cognitive factors which need to be considered when modifying CBT for children who have ID. Furthermore, research is required to test whether CBT so modified is effective in this population. Practitioner points: Clinical implications. Effective ways of providing cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to children with intellectual disability (ID) is unclear. This study provides a framework of potential adaptations for clinical practice As rates of mental illness for children with intellectual disability are high, and rates of treatment provision low, it is hoped that the recommendations provided in this study will encourage more mental health practitioners to provide CBT to children with ID. Limitations. These recommendations are based only upon neuropsychological literature. Trialling the effectiveness of an adapted form of CBT for children and adolescents with ID is required. There are varying causes of intellectual disability, with differences in cognitive profiles. The utility of the recommendations made here may vary according to specific aetiologies.
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