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Vanderbilt receives expansion grant to prepare professionals

Updated on 9/16/2008 10:31:03 AM.

NASHVILLE — Vanderbilt is one of 18 universities and research organizations nationally to receive funding for its existing LEND program to expand work in preparing and training professionals in a range of disciplines to identify, assess, and provide services for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disorders. The funding is part of more than $14 million in FY 2008 grants being awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration to improve the health and well-being of children and youth with ASD.

“This funding is of major importance to Tennessee, since our state, like so many others, lacks enough trained professionals to meet the dramatically increasing needs of families affected by autism,” said Terri Urbano, Ph.D., M.P.H., clinical professor of pediatrics and director of the MIND Training Program, Vanderbilt’s LEND. “We’ll be partnering with the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. The grant, which provides $200,000 per year for three years, also will enable us to expand training opportunities for community physicians and behavioral health professionals, complementing TRIAD’s training activities for families, educators, and health care providers.”

LENDs—Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities—are a national network of programs providing long- and short-term, graduate level interdisciplinary training. Trainees from diverse fields are prepared to assume leadership roles in their respective fields. Vanderbilt’s LEND is known as the MIND Training Program—Mid-Tennessee Interdisciplinary Instruction in Neurodeve

lopmental Disabilities. Founded within Vanderbilt Pediatrics, it is now a collaboration between the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, which administers the program, and the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Developmental Medicine and Cognition.

“This expansion grant is great news,” said Division Director Tyler Reimschisel, M.D. “It means that we can increase the number of physicians and other health care providers who can diagnose or rule out ASD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, thanks to the preservice and community-based training that the expansion funds provide. It will allow us to leverage the great strengths of Pediatrics, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and TRIAD in services, training, and research in ASD to better serve our community and state.”

“Our LEND autism expansion has three broad goals,” Urbano said. “The first goal is to increase the number of interdisciplinary professionals in the field of neurodevelopmental and related disabilities, with expanded emphasis on autism spectrum disorders. The second goal is to reduce barriers to screening, diagnosis, and evidence-based practice related to autism and other disabilities through specialized training for community pediatricians and behavioral health professionals. We’re particularly pleased that Tennessee’s other LEND program at the University of Tennessee Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities also received an expansion grant, because it will allow us to work together to provide training for community pediatricians. The third goal is to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders, which will include developing educational products and disseminating information.”

The MIND Training Program includes faculty from Vanderbilt, Belmont University, Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical College, and the University of Tennessee. Faculty represent 14 disciplines or areas: audiology, developmental pediatrics, distance learning, health administration, nursing, nutrition, occupational therapy, parent advocacy, physical therapy, psychology, special education, speech/language, pediatric dentistry, and social work. MIND associate director, Lisa Craft, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, coordinates the Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics Residency Program, an integral part of MIND.

This month, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center and the Boling Center UCEDDs (University Centers for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities) and LENDs were selected to host an Act Early Regional Summit. The Summit, to be held in early January 2009, will bring together key state leaders from the early intervention and early childhood community to assist in the development of comprehensive statewide plans for autism-related identification, assessment, diagnosis, and intervention. The Vanderbilt Kennedy Center will be the local host for state delegations from Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The Act Early Summit Project is funded by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Regional Summits are part of the CDC’s “Learn the Signs, Act Early” campaign to educate the public about developmental milestones and the importance of early identification and intervention for children with signs of ASD and related disabilities. Autism spectrum disorders are present early in life and are characterized by varying degrees of impairment in communication/language, social abilities, and restricted or unusual patterns of activities and interests. The characteristics of ASD can be present in different combinations and at different levels of severity. Specific behaviors vary widely from person to person. ASD occurs in as many as 1 in 150 individuals, is about 3 times more common in boys than in girls, and occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups.

Founded as one of the nation’s first Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Centers, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center today is an interdisciplinary research, training, diagnosis, and treatment institute, embracing faculty and resources available through Vanderbilt Medical Center, the College of Arts and Science, and Peabody College. The Center brings together scientists and practitioners in behavior, education, genetics, and neuroscience to work together in unique ways to solve the mysteries of development and learning.

For information on the MIND Training Program, contact (615) 936-1104. For information on the Act Early Regional Summit, contact (615) 322-8240; or see the VKC website at

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