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Current PhD Projects

PhD Student:Teresa Greene (f/t),DELStudentship, 2014-17

Designing and implementing a pilot study investigating the effects of a peer-guide, community-based gym program on the physical and psychosocial health of adults with intellectual disabilities.

This study is a multi-phase mixed method study, designed using the MRC guidelines on developing complex interventions. Planning for this pilot study began with a systematic review of community-based exercise interventions, undertaken to bridge the gaps in current knowledge. A qualitative study was also undertaken with adults with intellectual disabilities, fitness instructors who work with adults with intellectual disabilities, prospective gym buddies disability population. This qualitative study helped to inform the design of

a gym program utilising a gym buddy system, and highlighted the training  ·

needs of prospective gym buddies and fitness instructors.

This preparatory work influenced the development of the Gym Buds program, a 12-week community gym program for adults with intellectual disabilities and undergraduate student buddies from the Ulster University.

This cluster-randomised  pilot study is investigating the effects of a peer­ guided gym program when compared with a waiting list control group. Outcomes which are being measured include cardiovascular risk factors (blood glucose, triglycerides, cholesterol levels, BMI, waist circumference) as well as physical activity levels, physical fitness, social inclusion, life satisfaction and self-efficacy.  A process evaluation of the pilot study will also be undertaken at its conclusion.

PhD Student:Peter Mulhal (f/t),DELStudentship, 2015-18

The Development of a Toolkit which will highlight and address Methodological Barriers Experienced by Researchers of RCTS with Adults with Intellectual Disabilities.

Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) are widely recognised as being the 'Gold Standard' source of evidence in healthcare provision. In spite of this, RCTs account for a very small percentage of research publications in the field of intellectual disabilities. Those RCTs that are conducted and reported in the literature are fraught with methodological challenges and shortcomings.

This situation contributes to a lack of a robust evidence base for many

of the treatments and interventions provided to people with intellectual disabilities. If healthcare funders and commissioners are to provide effective interventions which address the substantial health inequalities faced by people with intellectual disabilities, then improvements to the evidence base in this field are urgently needed. By combining evidence from the

existing literature, interviews and a survey of international trials researchers, this project seeks to develop a toolkit of resources for prospective RCT researchers in the field of Intellectual Disabilities. The toolkit will map out the RCT pathway from design to completion, highlight potential methodological barriers and provide options for potential strategies to overcome the barriers.

PhD Student:AnneJohnstone(f/t),DEL Studentship, 2014-17

A pilot feasibility study of a peer-led special school-based walking intervention for young people with intellectual disabilities.

Over 80% of children with intellectual disabilities engage in levels of physical activity below the minimum recommended level of 60 minutes moderate to vigorous physical activity per day. Although the numerous health benefits of physical activity for children with intellectual disabilities are irrefutable, there remains a lack of accessible opportunities for this population to engage in.To date there have been no studies that explore the feasibility and effectiveness of a walking intervention in young people with intellectual disabilities. The purpose of this study is to develop and test a peer-led special school-based walking intervention for young people with intellectual disabilities.

A mixed methods study comprising 4 phases. Phase 1was a systematic review of the effectiveness of interventions in increasing objectively measured physical activity in young people with intellectual disabilities Phase 2 was a qualitative exploration of enablers, motivators and barriers to participating in a school-based walking intervention from the perspective

of young people with intellectual disabilities, teachers, classroom assistants

and principals. The themes identified from focus groups and interviews  in phase 2 aided in the development of the intervention. Phase 3 was a series of workshops with the same participants from phase 2. The aim of

workshops was to further develop the walking intervention. Phase 4 was a pilot feasibility study of a 16-week school-based walking intervention with pre and post measurement.

PhD Student:AnitaHarron(f/t),PHA RDD PhD Fellowship, 2016-19

The development of a universal trans-disciplinary programme to enhance working memory which will target attention and language skills in 4-5 year old children: A clustered randomised feasibility trial

Policy in Northern Ireland emphasises the need for services to tackle underachievement  through early intervention and integrated care. Teams of healthcare professionals (speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and behaviour specialists) work with mainstream schools to address barriers to learning.

Working memory (WM) is the ability to hold information in our minds. lt is associated with attention, language, sensory and motor skills. Most WM research has focused on computerised training packages. The findings have been mixed and there are questions about whether consequent

·improvements in WM actually impact on children's ability to pay attention

in the classroom, or on their language and academic skills. There is a need to research non- computerised approaches where tasks are embedded within everyday educational activities.

The aim of this study is to develop a novel, school-based programme to support year one children with WM, attention and language skills.  lt  will be unique as it will integrate many of the skills which are associated with WM and attention (language, sensory, motor and cognitive tasks).

A mixed methods, multi-phase study composed of 4 stages, based upon phases 1 and 2 of the MRC guidance. Stage 1: A systematic review of non-computerised WM interventions. Stage 2: Focus groups with health professionals, teachers and parents to explore the content and delivery methods of the programme in a preliminary form. Stage 3: Interactive workshops with a group of health professionals, teachers and parents to develop the programme. Stage 4: A pilot clustered randomised feasibility

trial to assess the suitability of the programme for use in a large scale

randomised controlled trial.

PhD Student:Natalie Hegarty(f/t),DEL Studentship, 2014-17

The Creation of a Practitioner Development Programme for Speech and Language Therapists, to Support their Provision of Evidence-based Practice in the Clinical Management of Children with Phonological Speech Disorders

This project aims to create and test het face validity of an evidence-based online resource to support speech and language therapists’ (SLTs’) implementation of evidence-based practice in the clinical management of children with phonological speech sound disorders (SSD).  The project is a mixed methods study with five stages:

  • 1.A systematic review exploring the evidence-base for three key phonological intervention approaches, looking at the methodological quality of the existing evidence and the close of intervention provided;
  • 2.AUK-wide, online, anonymous, survey of SLTs' clinical practices (i.e., their use of intervention approaches and dosages, and their access to research evidence);
  • 3.Three focus groups with SLTs and six ·1:1 interviews with SLT managers investigating the gaps between the research evidence (i.e., systematic review) and current clinical practice (i.e., survey);
  • 4.Development of an online resource to support SLTs to translate research into practice. This process will encompass three resource development workshops with 5 intended service users (SLTs);
  • 5.Face validity testing of the resource with members of its target audience who have not yet taken part in this project (n=S). The aim is to explore if the resource looks like it can support SUs to translate research evidence into practice consistently.

PhD Student:Gabriel/eFitzpatrick(f/t),DEL Studentship,2013-17

Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback in Young People with Autism: A Feasibility Study

This is a feasibility study that aims to assess the effectiveness of a heart rate var ability biofeedback intervention in reducing mental health symptoms as indicated by anxiety, depression, attention problems, and behaviour problems in young people with autism aged 11-18.

PhD Student:HelenCoulter(p/t),PHA RDD PhD Fellowship, 2013-18

Evaluating and Comparing Future Planning Training Programmes for Family Carers of People with Intellectual Disabilities

This study will assess the effects of a Nl-based Train the Trainers Future Planning Programme on family carers of people with intellectual disabilities, in terms of a number of psychological measures, and will compare these with carers in a Scottish programme using a peer support model of future planning. The study will also explore how people with intellectual disabilities are involved in the decision making process about the development of their future plan as well as the views and experiences of the NI family carers, siblings and staff  in relation to future  planning.