Young people with a mild intellectual disability have a limited ability to weigh up cognitive decisions and are more easily influenced by their peers. These are the findings of UvA researcher Anika Bexkens, who will be defending her doctoral thesis on Monday, 16 December at the University of Amsterdam.
Young people with a mild to borderline intellectual disability have limitations in their intellectual (IQ range of 50 to 85) and adaptive functions. They more often exhibit sexual risk-taking behaviour, substance abuse and delinquent behaviour than their peers without an intellectual disability. Bexkens is researching the factors behind this heightened risk-taking behaviour.
Given that a mild to borderline intellectual disability is often accompanied by behaviour disorder and behaviour disorders are also related to heightened risk-taking behaviour, Bexkens is studying these factors not only in relation to young people with and without a mild intellectual disability, but also in relation to young people with a behaviour disorder and young people with both a mild intellectual disability and a behaviour disorder.
Cognitive skills (both cognitive control and decision-making) as well as affective skills (such as susceptibility to the influence of peers) appear to play a role in risk-taking behaviour. Bexkens demonstrates that young people with a mild intellectual disability – with or without a behaviour disorder – have a limited ability to weigh up cognitive decisions and are more easily influenced by peers. Limitations in these areas may be the reason for the heightened risk-taking behaviour observed among this group of young people. Furthermore, Bexkens’s research has shown that young people with a mild intellectual disability but without a behaviour disorder also suffer from cognitive control problems.
Understanding how risk-taking behaviour can be explained is the first step towards developing strategies to reduce this type of behaviour. Interventions that alleviate or compensate such limitations may serve to protect young people with a mild to borderline intellectual disability. Bexkens’s findings underscore the need for long-term care and guidance for these young people. Current reform of the Dutch youth care system may overlook this need, as reform measures emphasise the reintegration of youth with intellectual disability in society and regular education. Without adequate specialist care and guidance, these reform measures may well lead to an increase in risk-taking behaviour and may diminish opportunities for preventive intervention.
A. Bexkens, Risk-Taking in Adolescents with Mild-to-Borderline
Intellectual Disability and/or Behavior Disorder. An Experimental Study of
Cognitive and Affective Processes.
Supervisor: Professor M.W. van der Molen. Co-supervisors: Dr H.M. Huizenga and Dr A.M.L. Collot d'Escury-Koenigs.
The PhD defence ceremony will take place on Monday, 16 December at 16:00.
Location: Agnietenkapel, Oudezijds Voorburgwal 231, Amsterdam.