There are many supports and services available to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The key is knowing what services will benefit each person and how to access those services. The service delivery system for people with developmental disabilities can be confusing and overwhelming for families to navigate, with multiple providers in both the public and private sectors. In previous articles, the interdisciplinary team and its importance to individuals and families has been noted. Since the team is a significant component in maximizing each person's independence and quality of life, it is essential to know about the health care professionals who are part of the team and the role each plays in developing the service plan. This article starts to look at each of these professionals, their area of expertise and how they can assist a person reach their highest level of functioning.

The definition of an interdisciplinary team is:

“a group of health care professionals from diverse fields who work in a coordinated fashion, combining their skills and resources, toward a common goal for a person”
It is important to note that the team must work for and with the person with developmental disabilities and their family/caregiver at all times for it to be effective. Individuals and families have to work with a team they trust and who will listen to their needs and concerns. Based on a person's needs, members of the team could include the following:

Service Coordinator/Case Manager
Habilitation Specialist
Physical Therapist
Speech Therapist
Occupational Therapist
Psychologist and/or Psychiatrist
Teacher/School Personnel
Others as needed
Individuals and families will work closely with the Service Coordinator. This is the person who will develop the person's individualized service plan (ISP), work with the other team members to ensure services are delivered as required, coordinate meetings and in general advocate for the developmentally disabled person. Service coordination is offered through most private sector providers and families/individuals can interview available staff to choose the service coordinator they believe will do the best job for them.

Service coordinators can link individuals to a multitude of services including:

day or work programs
residential options
recreational opportunities
respite services
adaptive equipment
home modifications
financial assistance
Service coordinators will also assist with any paperwork/application process necessary to access the needed supports. The ISP developed by the service coordinator will outline all services and supports, the team members to provide these services and what each member's responsibility will be toward the person. Each team member will also develop their own plan delineating the exact service they will provide, the frequency of the service and what progress they will be looking to achieve.

Some plans may be very simple with families/individuals wanting only 1 or 2 services, such as recreation or a day program. Others, especially for those people who are severely disabled or live in a home managed by an agency, can be very lengthy with many professionals as part of the team.

This has been an introduction to the Interdisciplinary Team and the role of the service coordinator. Next month's article will look at the other professional members of the team and the contributions they can make toward a person's greater independence.