Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics


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Cognitive science as the science of the human mind aims to introduce students to the basic functions through which the human mind processes information and acquires knowledge. In particular, the course focuses on areas of cognition, such as attention, perception, memory, thought, learning and language acquisition and language understanding, drawing upon a wide spectrum of resources from psychology, philosophy, linguistics, artificial intelligence and neuroscience.

Reading is a basic skill that is a prerequisite for success in a variety of life and academic domains.

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Nevertheless, it is also a highly complex skill that requires the coordination of multiple cognitive processes like perception, encoding, memory, and thinking. This course examines these processes as they apply to reading tasks that range from word recognition to sentence and text comprehension. However, equal emphasis is given to the outcomes of reading in terms of mental representations and knowledge acquisition learning. Although the course focuses on competent reading, implications concerning reading ability, its measurement and development are also discussed.

1. Introduction to the Curriculum

Language is taught as a linguistic, biological and physical concept. Language comprehension and language production. Language development in children. Theories on the origin of language. Language and thought. Language and education. The course will present current theories and research studies pertaining to brain plasticity and brain specialization.

The effects of brain damage on neuronal networks as well as current theories on brain reorganization and repair during childhood and adulthood will be discussed.


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The effects of genetics, hormones, and metabolism in relationship to normal brain functioning as well during neuropathology, neurological, and behavioral disorders will be addressed. This course aims at the familiarisation of the student with a field of study situated at the interface of social psychology and the theories of learning and cognitive development.

Emphasis will be placed on the educational applications of social developmental theories in peer interaction and cognitive development as well as co-operative learning. The course will cover core theoretical approaches in the sociogensis of the mind like the work of G. Mead, Lev Vygotsky, and the sociological studies of Piaget.

Finally, more recent research described as post-Vygostkian and post-Piagetian in relation to cultural psychology will be discussed. The course studies the psychology of individuals who violate the law or live on the margins of social life. The psychological profiles, cognitive, emotional and behavioral mechanisms that predispose one to develop antisocial behaviors will be examined.

Social phenomena such as family violence, serious criminality, substance abuse and other addictions, as well as membership in cults and other countercultural groups will be addressed from a psychological perspective. The course will also survey methods of assessment and intervention used in these situations. This course will address the psychological, social and biological factors that contribute to the development and maintenance of addition to substances.

Additions to nicotine, alcohol and hard drugs will be addressed. The emphasis will be on the current research in the field dealing with the etiological mechanisms and predisposing factors into these disorders. Approaches to prevention, assessment and intervention will also be discussed. This course recognizes that vocational readiness is both a developmental and a complicated process for psychology students. The course will offer both knowledge and opportunities aimed to enable students to gradually and systematically delineate their own vocational path.

Professional issues in psychology and vocational development theories will be discussed.

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Various specialties in psychology will also be presented during the lectures. Students will have an opportunity to explore their professional interests and to further develop their psychological mindedness, vocational skills, self awareness, and critical thinking through field experience and various visits to professionals in the community. The course examines learning and the factors that influence it.

Course organization is based on three related areas: learning processes, learning outcomes, and contexts of learning. Topics include: theories of learning, learning and memory, strategies, concept acquisition, knowledge acquisition, restructuring, and transfer, learning and intelligence, learning in cognitive and knowledge domains, learning and instruction, inductive and deductive approaches, learning tasks, and evaluation. A review of the various clinical methods of assessment used in diagnostic exploration. We will discuss the assessment of personality, intelligence, behavior, adaptive functioning, cognitive skills, and affective functioning.

Psychometric issues, such as reliability, validity, norms, and standardization of tests, will be presented. The dominant diagnostic coding systems will be presented. Ethical and philosophical issues in diagnosis and clinical assessment, such as social stigma, will be explored.

Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics

The problem of the human mind and its functions are the main topics of this course. Questions like what mind is, its relation to the body the body-mind problem , the way it represents the environmental world and its functions, coordination of mental and somatic processes, unconsciousness and consciousness will be targeted for discussion, focusing on their representational aspects. Advanced course that covers theories of the nature and course of human cognitive development from infancy to adulthood.

The course begins by discussing theoretical issues related to: the structure of the human mind and then proceeds to explore the development of perceptual abilities and attention, examine the development of language and memory, describe several aspects of children's conceptual development, and offers conclusions about the nature of development. This course is designed for students who have already attended courses in child and adolescent development.

Most of the readings will be books and articles, which will be discussed in the class meetings. This course focuses on specialized methodological issues and statistics in psychology. In the area of correlational research, the students will be introduced to the methodological approaches that lead to hierarchical regression and factor analysis. In the area of experimental research, this course covers simple and complex factorial designs with emphasis in both experimental design and statistical analysis.

It is expected that the students will acquire substantial skills in both correlational and experimental designs and statistics. It is also expected that the students will be capable to understand complex psychological studies and develop the skills that will allow them to design and conduct psychological experiments. The course covers a wide scope of reading difficulties and dyslexia including the nature, causes, diagnosis, and various forms of treatment based on different underpinning theories and approaches.

The course is divided into six parts: 1 review of the theoretical basis for reading difficulties; 2 identification of principles for diagnosis; 3 review of current reading tests and diagnostic materials; 4 study of the different subtypes of reading difficulties; 5 identification of principles for appropriate remedial programs, and 6 writing of case reports.

Particular emphasis is placed on the phonological and cognitive correlates of reading difficulties in school-age children. The seminars are initially facilitated by course staff and as trainees progress through their training are increasingly trainee-led. Learning to apply techniques in practice is often challenging, and in order to consolidate theory-practice links, and to enhance practical skills learned on placement, trainees attend specialist CBT supervision groups during the first and second years of training. These groups arise from a recognition that trainees' exposure to expert CBT on placement can be variable and to ensure that all trainees are competent in CBT by the end of their training.

Trainees bring clinical material that is discussed in their small groups under the supervision of clinical psychologist expert in CBT. The overarching aim is to support trainees in developing their understanding of CBT theory and their capacity to apply this in clinical practice. The intent is to complement but not to substitute for or conflict with, the supervision offered to the trainee on their placement. In their second year trainees have a choice of attending either psychodynamic or systemic seminars.

Trainees read key papers or chapters in preparation for each seminar.

Ethical issues in research

Seminars are facilitated by experts in the respective approach, all of whom are also active clinicians in the NHS. Discussion aims to develop trainees' understanding of the key concepts and ideas addressed in the reading and how these can be translated into clinical work. Systemic seminars also take a "learning through doing" approach and use systemic techniques to critically appraise the reading material and trainees' responses to this.

These workshops consider major transition points within training such as the shift from novice to more experienced trainee, and from trainee to life post-qualification. The first of these workshops aims to increase trainees' awareness of expectations of themselves and supervisors, and to allow them to feel more confident in asserting themselves within supervision. It explores elements of good supervision and what to do when supervision is not good enough.

Psychology Research Ethics

The second workshop considers the personal and professional challenges involved in qualifying, how life as a qualified psychologists differs from that of a trainee, and the skills needed to operate as an effective and reflective practitioner when the structure of a training course is no longer present. This unit aims to develop trainees' understanding of the organisational context of clinical psychology practice in the UK, to foster personal awareness of the ethical and legal basis of professional practice and to educate trainees about national service priorities influencing clinical practice.

There are two broad strands to the professional issues unit. The first focuses on the various professional and ethical issues which a psychologist needs to know and to understand, and aims to foster understanding of the professional and organisational context within which clinical psychologists practice in the UK, with particular reference to the NHS and community care system. The second strand reflects the fact that, in practice, working as a professional involves the development of personal skills, without which effective ethical and reflective practice is hard to achieve.

Over all three years of the course there is teaching related to the ethical and legal bases of professional practice, the BPS and the HPC's standards of conduct, performance and ethics and the organisational context of psychology practice in the UK, and in a separate sub-unit difference and diversity. Further sessions focus more directly on helping trainees to develop as reflective practitioners, able to think and reflect on their development as professionals. This unit is part of the broader professional issues unit. Its key aims are to attune trainees to the influence of cultural and social diversity on psychological health and difficulties.

The unit also aims to equip them with the knowledge and skills to function as clinicians who are sensitive to disadvantage and discrimination, mindful of the potential impact of social stressors on the success of psychological interventions and flexible and critical in the application of psychological approaches to very diverse clients and communities.

The unit also considers equity of access to NHS and clinical psychology services and the role clinical psychologists can play to maximise the accessibility and suitability of services. The aim of this module is to equip trainees with the knowledge, skills and confidence to carry out research, evaluation, and audit studies. Teaching is delivered across three sub-units:. The research methods sub-unit aims to help trainees become both better producers and consumers of clinical psychology research, in becoming competent scientists as well as practitioners.

It teaches the fundamental concepts, methods and skills that trainees need to carry out their own research and for understanding and evaluating other people's research. In addition to teaching the tools of the trade, the sub-unit aims to instil an enthusiasm for research in trainees and convince them undertaking research can be stimulating, challenging and enjoyable.

The teaching is structured around a practical description of the research process, following the steps involved in executing a project: groundwork, measurement, design, analysis, interpretation and dissemination. In addition to the technical aspects of research, attention is given to the socio-political context, taking into account that clinical research is often conducted in working service settings.

Although the focus is mostly practical, the philosophical issues raised by different methodological approaches are addressed in taking a "methodological pluralist" stance. Both quantitative and qualitative approaches to clinical research are examined. The project support subunit aims to guide trainees through the various stages involved in carrying out the major research project, from the choice of topic at the start, through to submitting the finished thesis at the end and hopefully going on to disseminate the findings.

This sub-unit provides the back-up required to get trainees successfully through this substantial undertaking, and hope that the experience of carrying out the major research project will both enthuse them for the subject matter and equip them to carry out further research in their future careers. The statistics sub-unit aims to give trainees the conceptual and practical skills needed to carry out the major research project and to design, interpret and evaluate clinical research.

It aims to provide essential statistical training that will be an important part of the skills required of a scientist- practitioner. The sub-unit aims to give trainees a sound understanding of fundamental statistical concepts, the main principles underpinning the most common statistical methods, how to implement these using SPSS and how to interpret and report them appropriately. Teaching is closely tied to the implementation and evaluation of research in clinical settings.

It emphasises the importance of theory, methodology and clinical expertise in the appropriate use of statistics in clinical research and is organised around a set of common practical research issues. Elective teaching is designed to reflects the course's expectation that trainees should take an active role in their own learning, develop increasing levels of autonomy and towards the end of their training should possess the knowledge and skills to plan and organise their own continuing learning needs.

This teaching takes place towards the end of the third year and the topics are chosen by the trainee group in consultation with the academic director and course management. The topics covered will usually reflect knowledge and skills relevant to specialist client populations or settings or offer advanced teaching on topics covered at an earlier point in the academic programme. Trainees then approach speakers and organise the timetable. Because of limitations on teaching space, year groups attend college on different days.

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However, on the last day of each term trainees across all year groups come together for a formal case presentation and a DClinPsy conference. Masterclasses take as their starting point an in-depth presentation of a clinical 'case' provided by a final year trainee. Experts representing a range of theoretical models or professional disciplines then discuss the case in terms of their formulation and possible interventions.

Where masterclasses are delivered to trainees within the broader research department, in particular educational psychology trainees, they aim to enhance inter-professional learning and ensure that members of both professions are alert to the skills and knowledge unique to each professional group. Conferences are attended by all trainees and are also open to regional supervisors. They aim to showcase up-to-the minute topics, evidence and its translation into clinical work and go beyond what is taught as part of the academic programme.


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  • Guiding Principles The curriculum is built on the course's guiding principles and course modules are designed to reflect these: To train 'thinking psychologists' Practice that is closely informed by the evidence base The close integration of theory and practice Emphasis on appraisal skills and critical reflection These principles reflect the role of the clinical psychologist in the NHS, the required competencies set out in the BPS accreditation criteria and the HPC's standards.

    Theoretical Frameworks A number of overarching frameworks underpin the curriculum and are drawn on to integrate knowledge across different areas. These are: A biopsychosocial model Developmental Psychopathology These theoretical frameworks are deemed suitable for clinical psychology training as they can help us understand the complexities of human development. Structure of the Programme In order to facilitate trainees' broader understanding of the material covered in the teaching programme, the following structural initiatives have been incorporated into the teaching programme: Where appropriate, a clear distinction, in terms of teaching delivery, between theory and practice, to maintain coherence and to make the process by which theory and practice are connected more explicit.

    This is considered a key objective in order to support the development of trainees' critical thinking skills. In practice, this means explicitly theory-oriented and practice-oriented sessions supplemented by time in the curriculum dedicated to the links between them. The structural organization of the teaching programme reflects a coherent developmental process that is designed to facilitate trainees' thinking and learning.

    This applies to written, online and spoken communication. Social workers need to understand the social, psychological and medical models of learning disability, how these shape services and the relative power they may have in determining support and service choices. The medical model of learning disability include the use of IQ and emphasis on diagnosis of a physical or developmental condition s e.

    The focus is on treatment interventions and what can or cannot be changed through medications or other physical interventions. Recognition of physical causes of learning disabilities, and of the physical health needs of people with lived experience, are important to ensure access to appropriate healthcare. Social workers should understand medical perspectives well enough to evaluate the value and limits and risks of a medical model. However, the dominance of medical approaches to learning disability is often reported by people with lived experience, their families and advocates as leading to stigmatising and excluding attitudes and approaches, low expectations of achievement and self-determination, and persistent or increasing dependency on services and professionals.

    Psychological approaches focus on the emotional and cognitive needs and abilities of people with lived experience, and how these relate to behaviours and mood. Skilled identification, assessment and support for psychological needs can be a vital part of a personalised relationship- based approach. This can be integrated into a psycho-social approach that recognises common human psychological needs of people with lived experience — such as needs for healthy attachment, emotional expression, security, affirmation and positive relationships with others.

    This includes enabling people to self-define their needs and strengths and express themselves in their own language and forms of communications. In a survey of social workers during the development of this Capabilities Statement knowledge of mental capacity was a top priority. There are also profound ethical issues about whether, when and how professionals should intervene in the lives of those who are viewed as unable to decide about their own care and treatment Law Commission, As more people live in the community with complex needs, mental capacity is increasingly an important area of practice.

    To practice ethically and legally, social workers need technical skills — for instance the use of tools and aids to elicit responses while assessing cognitive capacity. They also require decision-making skills such as determining the most appropriate time and place to conduct capacity assessments; observation skills to interpret body language and cues, and judgement skills to determine whether, on the balance of probability, the person with lived experience has decision making capacity. To be effective, social workers need information skills to research relevant law and the underpinning ethical principles.

    Social workers also require court-skills, including, report writing, case management, and presentation. Overall, the work should be underpinned by a strong value-base and adherence to The Code of Ethics for Social Work. People with lived experience overall have much worse physical and mental health and poorer wellbeing than the rest of the population Rickard and Donkin, These health inequalities include increased and early mortality, intentional and institutional barriers to good healthcare, medical interventions without consent, and reduced access to palliative care.

    For instance, people with lived experience of learning disability have increased risk of co-morbidity and mortality — 13 to 20 years earlier for men and 20 to 26 years younger for women Hatton et al, Therefore, social workers need to understand the social determinants of health and wellbeing and develop skills to advocate for people with lived experience. Understanding how people with lived experience communicate and express their health needs is crucial to ensuring their health needs can be better met, earlier and more effectively. People with lived experience are more at risk than the rest of the population of some forms of abuse, often because of social isolation and exclusion, the predatory and exploitative behaviours of others and the ineffectiveness of services in listening and acting early on what people say of their experiences.

    Social isolation, poverty, unsuitable housing, and poor health for people with learning disabilities increase susceptibility to harm. This may be compounded by other forms of discrimination or abuse such as racism, homophobia or sex-based crimes. People with lived experience may have multiple personal identities leading to multiple and compounding discriminations. For instance, where services have difficulties responding to the needs and expressive behaviours of people with lived experience, this may increase the use of restrictions and restraining techniques which can cause harm and become patterns of abusive, institutional behaviour, often behind closed doors.

    This persists despite high profile examples of failures of care and abuse. The role of social workers in enabling people with disabilities to lead empowered, self-determined lives in communities is as important now as it was then. A separate CQC Review of seclusion found 62 adults and children, some as young as 11, were being held in isolation, sometimes for years.

    People should not be in long stay, inadequate, at worst abusive institutions. Making Safeguarding Personal must not simply be seen in the context of a formal safeguarding enquiry Care Act, , Section 42 enquiry 2 , but also in the whole spectrum of activity, embedded in preventive care and support as well as framing interventions when things go wrong.

    Enabling people with lived experience of learning disability to maximise their abilities to safeguard their own wellbeing — by recognising risks and their right to be safe, raising issues with trusted supporters and advocates as soon as they have a concern, and knowing where to go for help — is also key to personalised approach to safeguarding. Social workers need to understand the main statutory legal frameworks including case law and precedents relevant to learning disability services and the rights of individuals and families.

    Social workers need knowledge and skills in supporting people with lived experience and their families to navigate legal systems to ensure access to services and rights. Current key relevant laws and their Codes of Practice in England include:. Social work is often about supporting people through changes and challenges in transitions through life stages. This can mean significant change in their lives and their care arrangements, impacting them as individuals and their families.

    They may experience a change in the nature and types of services available and a change in people involved in their care requiring new relationships with care providers to be formed. People with lived experience who co-produced this Capabilities Statement wanted to draw attention to the multiple forms of transition that they experience — for instance, between hospital and their home, from care institutions to their home for example moving between short-break care, palliative care, and medical care , and even between different teams and professionals within the same service — and the impact of each transition.

    Each transition requires personalised, person-centred transition planning. The implications for the individual, their family and support network need to be understood and considered in the planning for the transition. While all people experience transitions from childhood to adulthood, for people with lived experience of learning disability, this can be significantly and qualitatively different than for the general population.

    Social workers need to support people with lived experience of learning disability to have as much control as possible through change, to express their wishes and be heard, to use their abilities and to have tailored support for change.

    Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics
    Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics
    Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics
    Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics
    Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics Research Issues in Learning Disabilities: Theory, Methodology, Assessment, and Ethics

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