HOUSTON – (Dec. 14, 2011) – Having recently completed graduate school, Faiza Sheikh knew she wanted to work with children with autism, but realized that she, like many other up-and-coming health care professionals, did not have the necessary experience to do so.
“There is a critical shortage of professionals who are adequately trained to treat children with both autistic spectrum disorders and neurodevelopmental disabilities (ASD/ND),” said Sheikh. “I was more than ready for the opportunity to learn how to improve care and facilitate access to service for these children.”
Thanks to a new collaborative program developed at the Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), Faiza now has the chance to make an impact on the lives of the growing number of children with ASD/ND.
The LoneStar LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities) program, funded through a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is the first program of its kind in Texas and one of 43 LEND programs located at universities or major children’s hospitals across the United States. Its mission is to prepare future leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of ASD/ND, increase the rate of accurate diagnosis of ASD/NDs in Texas, empower families to be an active participant in their child’s treatment plan and improve ASD/ND service delivery and systems.
Pauline A. Filipek, M.D., director of The Autism Center at the Children’s Learning Institute, serves as program director of LoneStar LEND, which is comprised of five member institutions: UTHealth, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Woman’s University, University of Houston and University of Houston-Clear Lake.
It is estimated that more than 62,000 children across Texas have an ASD. According to the Texas Council on Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders, no one agency is responsible for coordinating services, collecting uniform data or assessing the needs of these children.
“The LEND team hopes to change the face of autism in Texas,” said Filipek. “As a state, we lack individuals adequately trained to not only educate individuals with ASD but other professionals on how to provide these services as well.”
Deborah Pearson, Ph.D., a faculty member from UTHealth, said the program is very exciting because it involves a cross-section of specialists who are uniting to deliver a multidisciplinary education to future professionals. “As a professional who has worked in this field for more than 20 years, and as a family member of an individual with a developmental disorder, I am honored to be a part of this very important program,” Pearson said.
The LoneStar LEND program uses an interdisciplinary training model to provide educational options for students, health care professionals, parents, teachers and the general public. Those options open to anyone include seminars led by both LEND faculty and families of children with ASD/ND and coordinated visits to autism support and advocacy groups. Medical residents and graduate students in the program also receive clinical practice. In addition, LoneStar LEND plans to produce web-based training for Texas residents to reach the largest number of interested professionals and families.
The LEND training model focuses on 14 core disciplines, including audiology, speech-language pathology, occupational and physical therapy, psychology, medicine, health care administration, nursing, nutrition, special education, pediatric dentistry, social work, genetic and family counseling.
“So much of what we do is becoming specialized, so we have the tendency to live and work in our own silos,” said Stephen Kanne, M.D., a faculty member from Baylor College of Medicine. “I love that LEND trainees are able to see the benefit of working with other professions and how much that can improve their own work.”
Dorothea Lerman, Ph.D., said she did not hesitate to join the LEND program. “I thought that it was a great opportunity to bring a critically needed training program to our state, and I was excited about the possibility of collaborating with other autism professionals in Houston,” said Lerman, a faculty member from University of Houston-Clear Lake.
“Our trainees will learn how to better serve their clients,” said Patricia Bowyer, Ph.D., a faculty member from Texas Woman’s University. “They will have a comprehensive view of care provision that is not often accomplished in a discipline-specific curriculum.”
Sheikh, who was encouraged by her graduate school adviser at University of Houston to join the program, is one of seven people in the initial class of trainees. In addition to attending seminars and working directly with families and their children, she is working with faculty member G. Thomas Schanding, Jr., Ph.D., from University of Houston on a research project. This project is using observational learning from video modeling as a way to increase sharing behaviors, eye contact, joint attention and pretend play in a group of culturally diverse preschoolers with autism.
Not only do students and faculty collaborate on various research projects, but faculty also work together to share best practices for the benefit of the trainees.
“LEND brings all faculty together so we can consistently model how to provide the best care for children with ASD/NDs,” said Schanding. “Our trainees will then get to model that collaboration across the state and advocate for innovation in how we cooperate and coordinate services.”
Sheikh says she believes LoneStar LEND has the potential to make a difference not only in her professional career, but for those families who are underrepresented and underserved.
“Our program is comprised of passionate and exceptional individuals who all share a common goal and are working together toward it,” said Sheikh. “The impact I see this program having on the medical community is increased awareness and a greater focus on early intervention in an effort to effectively help children with ASD/ NDs.”
For more information, visit www.LoneStarLEND.org.
The following is information about the LoneStar LEND program at each of its five member institutions:
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030