Both University of Virginia professors Micah Mazurek, PhD and Beth Ellen Davis, MD MPH, have long histories with the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental & Related Disabilities, or LEND, program. Mazurek, professor at the UVA School of Education and Human Development and director of the Supporting Transformative Autism Research (STAR) initiative, trained as a LEND fellow during her predoctoral internship, and later served as a program faculty member and director of the Missouri LEND. Beth Ellen Davis, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and professor at the UVA School of Medicine was not only a LEND fellow 20 years ago, she also served as a LEND program faculty member in both Washington and Alaska, and as a LEND director for two grant cycles.
Now, Davis and Mazurek are partnering to co-direct one of the newest LEND programs in the nation. The Blue Ridge LEND, established with a $2.2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is one of sixty federally funded interdisciplinary training programs across the country that seeks to improve the systems of care for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Mazurek and Davis will be joined by STAR colleagues, Research Assistant Professors of Education Erica Rouch and Rose Nevill, both of whom were also LEND fellows during their graduate studies. Rouch, will serve as the training director for the Blue Ridge LEND and, Nevill, as the lead evaluator. The program is supported by interdisciplinary core faculty from across academic programs at the UVA School of Education and Human Development, UVA School of Medicine, and Mary Baldwin University.
The Blue Ridge LEND will offer a wide array of training opportunities, ranging from short-term clinical experiences and lectures to a comprehensive year-long curriculum for a select group of long-term trainees. These Blue Ridge LEND fellows will receive over 300 hours of interdisciplinary leadership training focused on evidence-based, family-centered, and culturally competent care for individuals with disabilities. Uniquely situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the new program will have a specific focus on meeting the needs of families in rural and Appalachian communities of Virginia and northern North Carolina, including key partnerships with faculty and trainees at UVA Wise. The program will provide graduate-level interdisciplinary training for future professionals, as well as continuing education and technical assistance for practicing professionals and agencies across the region.
The program welcomed the first cohort of Blue Ridge LEND fellows this August, where their experiences will range from interactive skill-building seminars to spending time with children with disabilities and their families in the community. They will also receive hands-on training in interdisciplinary clinics and will gain real-world experience in understanding community systems, disability policy, and advocacy. Ultimately, these opportunities will prepare fellows to serve as future leaders in improving services and supports for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities.
Interdisciplinary training is also a critical element of the LEND program. Each cohort of Blue Ridge LEND Fellows will include graduate-level trainees from a broad range of professional disciplines and those with lived experience as family members or individuals with disabilities.
“Children with developmental disabilities have complex health and educational needs that can’t be addressed by a single discipline alone,” Mazurek said. “Instead, they need a team of professionals who can work together with families to provide comprehensive, coordinated, and holistic care and support.”
The Blue Ridge LEND program aims to address this need by building the workforce of future professionals who can work together to improve systems of care. Through hands-on teamwork experience, LEND trainees gain a deeper appreciation for the knowledge and perspectives of professionals from other disciplines and of individuals with disabilities and families themselves.
A key component of the LEND curriculum also involves direct experience in clinics providing evidence-based, interdisciplinary, family-centered, and culturally competent care for children with disabilities. For example, Blue Ridge LEND Fellows will spend a portion of their experience in the Collaborative Autism Resources and Evaluation (CARE) clinic at the Sheila C. Johnson Center.
The CARE clinic was established through the STAR initiative as an interdisciplinary training clinic providing comprehensive, evidence-based, and family-centered diagnostic assessment and treatment planning for children with or at-risk for autism. The clinic currently involves faculty and students from UVA Neurodevelopmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, Clinical & School Psychology, and Speech-Language Pathology programs.
A Network of Partners
Partnerships are the foundation of the Blue Ridge LEND. The program represents a collaboration between the UVA School of Education and Human Development, the UVA School of Medicine, and Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences at Mary Baldwin University (MBU). The program will bring together faculty and trainees from a variety of graduate programs at both universities, including MBU occupational therapy and physical therapy programs and UVA programs in medicine, nursing, psychology, special education, and speech-language pathology. Importantly, faculty and trainees from family and self-advocacy disciplines will bring critical perspectives and lived experience.
“This unique federal training grant links tremendous faculty expertise, collaboration, and passion across the UVA grounds, other institutions, community organizations and even across state borders to enhance the capacity of the next generation of disability leaders in order to improve the lives of individuals with neurodevelopmental and related disabilities,” said Dr Davis.
The program is also offering a menu of learning experiences up and down the Blue Ridge region to foster a deeper understanding of the needs of families in rural and Appalachian communities.
As former LEND fellows who are now using their expertise to lead the Blue Ridge LEND, Mazurek, Davis, Rouch, and Nevill are powerful examples of the success of this training model in preparing future leaders. The Blue Ridge LEND aims to continue this legacy by launching a new generation of professionals and advocates who will lead the way in improving the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families.