Research in Learning Disabilities in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge started in the 1990s with the creation of a senior academic psychiatry post, linked to the local clinical services for adults with intellectual disabilities. In 1992, the Section of Developmental Psychiatry was established at Douglas House to support research in learning disabilities and child psychiatry under the leadership of Professor Ian Goodyer. Later, the Autism Research Centre was established and the three research groups now make up the Section of Developmental Psychiatry.
With the award of The Health Foundation Chair in Learning Disabilities to Tony Holland in 2002, it was possible to establish an interdisciplinary research group in intellectual disabilities to develop further particular research themes and collaborations. Initially, the group was known as the Learning Disabilities Research Group, but later, to reflect changes in nomenclature for the people we work with and the changes in our own interests, the name changed to the Cambridge Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Group (CIDDRG). At present, the main themes include:
- Biologically-based research, for example, investigating the association between having a particular syndrome and the development of specific behavioural and/or psychiatric disorders. This includes research involving people with Prader-Willi syndrome, Down’s syndrome and autism spectrum conditions.
- Clinico-legal studies that aim to inform the development of legislation, policy, guidance, and practice. This includes a series of studies related to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the Mental Health Act 1983 (amended 2007) and the involvement of people with intellectual disabilities as suspects, defendants, witnesses, or victims, in the criminal and civil justice systems, and their clinical assessment and treatment.
- Social science-based studies broadly based around the theme of ‘citizenship’. Our studies have included investigations of advocacy (in the context of the Cambridge Parliament for people with learning difficulties and the Mental Capacity Act) and of support for eating and drinking.
- Neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric studies, including the investigation of epilepsy in people with intellectual disabilities and the use of brain scanning, neurophysiological, and physiological techniques to study specific difficulties experienced by people with intellectual disabilities and/or autistic spectrum conditions.
Each of these areas of study is now supported by senior academics from psychology, psychiatry, and the social and biological sciences, with joint appointments with the Faculty of Politics, Psychology, Sociology and International Studies at the University Cambridge, and, though our partners have now moved to Cardiff University, with the Babraham Institute. Since 2008, the Adult Theme of the NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough has been based within the CIDDRG, facilitating research collaborations between clinicians and academics working with people with intellectual disabilities and with acquired brain injury. In addition, we are founder partners in the Centre for Participation and the Eastern Region Intellectual Disability Research Network.
Several of those engaged in research have an active involvement in local clinical services for people with intellectual disabilities, and with national and international organisations in this field. This includes, for example, voluntary organisations supporting people with specific syndromes and their families, ‘vulnerable’ people with intellectual disabilities, and also scientific organisations such as the International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual Disabilities (IASSID). Tony Holland is a Vice President of IASSID. He is also Editor of the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research (JIDR), and Isabel Clare is a member of the JIDR and the Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities Editorial Boards. Our links with local statutory, private and voluntary services include the Cambridge Parliament for People with Learning Difficulties and the Cambridge branch of the National Autistic Society.