Project TEAM increases youth's ability to change the environment

By Jessica Kramer, PhD
Boston University

Research shows that the physical and social environment (the people, places, and things around us) can either help or make it harder for youth and young adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD) to do the activities that are important to them in the community, at school, or at work. Research also shows that youth with disabilities do not feel prepared or able to deal with these type of barriers in the environment. Often, adults and professionals make changes to the environment, and so young people with disabilities do not learn how to identify and speak up for their needs.

Project TEAM (Teens Making Activity and Environment Modifications) is a research based and theoretically driven intervention, and youth with I/DD were involved in its development. Project TEAM was designed to teach youth with I/DD to systematically identify environmental barriers and supports, generate modification strategies to address those barriers, and request reasonable accommodations. It was designed with the goal of being accessible to youth with cognitive, physical, and sensory disabilities. Project TEAM teaches a problem-solving process referred to as the “Game Plan”-The Game Plan (Goal, Plan, Do, and Check) which helps youth think about how different parts of their environment, rather than their disability or impairment, make it difficult to do the activities they want to do.

What did you do in your research?
Three groups took part in the Project TEAM intervention: two classrooms from an urban public high school and one after school program for young adults with I/DD. Participants were ages 15-17 year (71.4% male), in grades 9-11. A total of 21 participants were involved in the study. Thirteen trainees identified as African American, three as Caucasian, three as Hispanic, and two as mixed race. All students took life skill courses at their high school. Eight of the participants attended all 8 Project TEAM modules (delivered across 14 weeks), and most respondents did not miss more than one module. At the high schools, training took place twice per week, each session lasting 70 minutes. The after school program had one 120-minute session per week. There is an initial assessment that took place, after which group sessions occurred in modules 1-7 followed by progress assessment and coaching and field trips, and lastly module 8 is a group session. Outcome assessments were then measured after all of the modules were completed.

What did you find out?
Our first study shows that of 21 youth (ages 15-17), 76% of them achieved at least one goal they set about learning new things or doing a new activity. There was a significant increase in youth's ability to identify different parts of the environment and think of strategies to change the environment. Youth also reported liking Project TEAM and finding it fun and helpful for their everyday lives.

What are the take-home messages?
Project TEAM needs to make some changes to make it work better for young people with I/DD. A three-year study is going on now to see if these changes worked, and whether youth in Project TEAM learn and do more than youth who are not in Project TEAM. 

To learn more about these findings contact Jessica Kramer or visit our Project Website or visiting our Facebook page.

Full Journal Article
Kramer, J.M., Roemer, K., Liljenquist, K., Shin, J. & Hart, S. (2014). Formative Evaluation of Project TEAM (Teens Making Environment and Activity Modifications). Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 52(4), 258-272.