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Pappanikou Center receives grant to train disability specialists

by Carolyn Pennington - January 26, 2009

The University of Connecticut A.J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities has been awarded a federal LEND grant to address the critical shortage of trained personnel to serve individuals on the autism spectrum.

LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) is a training program for professionals aimed at improving the health of infants, children, and adolescents with developmental and other disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders.

The LEND grants are funded by the Bureau of Maternal and Child Health in the Department of Health and Human Services through the Combating Autism Act of 2006.

UConn is one of four universities to receive the grant, along with the universities of Arkansas, Colorado, and Illinois.

“The hallmark of the program at UConn is the collaboration of many schools at the University and community groups as well,” says Mary Beth Bruder, program director of the Pappanikou Center, which is based at the Health Center.

The Connecticut LEND pulls together experts from across the campus in education, social work, medicine, nursing, law, communication sciences, audiology, public health, and community medicine, among others.

Bruder says the program also ensures that families and youth are included, through partnerships with organizations such as Family Voices, the Down Syndrome Congress, Kids as Self Advocates, and autism parent groups.

“We are very pleased to see UConn take this step toward providing more qualified professionals to serve our family members,” says Laura Glomb, parent of a 20-year-old adult with a developmental disability.

“We are all thrilled to have this opportunity,” says Ashley Loria, a master’s level speech and language student who is one of the 11 fellows selected for training in the program this year.

“I’m looking forward to learning about interdisciplinary service models,” adds Kaitlyn Gagne, another speech and language fellow.

The other fellows this year are Susan Kelleher and Meredith Fetch in audiology, Kathleen O’Mahoney and Ken Cunningham in social work, Tashonna Webster and Heather Miller Kuhaneck in public health, Agnes Nalepa and Jennifer Shanaman in nursing, and Emily Hayden in education.

With this collaboration, the program will provide graduate education, postgraduate education, and training for state agencies, community providers, and youth.

Bruder the program aims to include young people who are on the autism spectrum or have other developmental disabilities, and their families, among the instructors who train the fellows.

Program goals also include offering webcasts for families and professionals in the community, and ensuring that trainees observe and participate in interdisciplinary service models.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of autism has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, now affecting one in every 150 children.

George Jesien, executive director of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities says, “These new programs will add significantly to our nation’s response to the needs of children with autism and other developmental disabilities and their families.

“The interdisciplinary training young professionals will receive as a result of these funds is some of the best preparation found anywhere in the world,” Jesien continues.

“We would expect many to become our future leading researchers, clinicians, and service providers in the field.”

The UConn LEND grant provides $1.5 million over the next three years. This supplements an existing grant to the Center from the Administration on Developmental Disabilities of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which was recently renewed with $2.75 million for the next five years.

The UConn Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, established in 1985, is committed to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families.

The Center provides model programs in innovative research, training, and technical assistance guided by a belief in natural individualized supports, inclusion, self-determination, and collaboration with like-minded organizations.

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