Learning Leader

Equipping Autism Leaders in Texas

Every April, the Children’s Learning Institute joins organizations across the country raising awareness for individuals with autism spectrum disorders during Autism Awareness Month. Every day, through the Autism Center at CLI and its programs, we support families in the Houston area and across Texas through clinical assessment and diagnosis, and tools and training for students and practitioners in education and health-related fields.

The Autism Center at CLI is part of the Dan L. Duncan Programs; its mission is to provide individualized, research-based assessment and clinical services to children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). The Autism Center team, under the leadership of Autism Center Director Pauline A. Filipek, MD, works closely with families to create an “Autism Home” for children’s developmental, autism-related medical, psychological, and educational needs. In addition to our clinical work, the Autism Center is also home to two statewide programs targeting our state’s capacity to serve individuals with ASDs and their families.

The LoneStar LEND program, one of the Autism Center’s statewide programs, is an interdisciplinary fellowship program that creates leaders in the field of autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disabilities (ASD/ND). A collaborative effort between UTHealth, University of Houston, Texas Women’s University, University of Houston-Clear Lake, Baylor College of Medicine, and The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, LoneStar LEND trains leaders who will improve global service delivery and increase early identification and subsequent diagnosis of ASD/ND in children across the state of Texas, particularly underrepresented and underserved children. LoneStar LEND is one of 43 LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) programs across the nation, and was established at the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth five years ago. Our 2015-16 fellows are featured in the photo above!

Through LoneStar LEND, graduate students and professionals across a broad range of medical and health fields participate in a comprehensive, interdisciplinary training program that focuses on leadership, cultural competence, and evidence-based practice. Fellows can participate in seminars, clinical practicum experiences, community field experiences, leadership training, research, and family mentoring experiences during the course of their one-year fellowship. After their completion of the program, LoneStar LEND fellows seek opportunities to better serve the children and families in their local communities, building upon the skills and experiences learned during their fellowship. In addition to health professionals, the LoneStar LEND fellowship is also available for individuals with a diagnosed disability and their families, providing an important opportunity for self-advocacy across the state.

Nicole Fanguy, a current LoneStar LEND fellow, shared her experiences in the program. “LoneStar LEND has been an exciting journey for me. Expanding my knowledge of autism and disabilities can help me grow awareness and spread advocacy. Being the parent of a successful young adult with autism has allowed me to share a different perspective with other trainees, and in turn I have learned so much from their chosen disciplines and all the faculty members. My highlight has been nationwide networking and being part of a much larger organization to further change in the disability sector in America!”

Dr. Filipek, who also serves at the Director of the LoneStar LEND program, is particularly interested in encouraging more self-advocates to join the LoneStar LEND program this year. “Through LoneStar LEND, we are able to provide tools and training to enable individuals with a diagnosis of autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities to share their experiences and provide leadership to advocate for themselves and other families across the state. Welcoming self-advocates to the LoneStar LEND Program provides a wealth of diverse experiences to the graduate and professional trainees, as well as encouraging new voices in the statewide conversation about resources for children with disabilities.”

Each year, LoneStar LEND hosts a conference in Houston for medical and health professionals, parents, and educators to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and partnerships to support children’s wellbeing. This year’s conference, “Who’s On My Team?: Building the Best Interdisciplinary Team for the Child with Special Needs,” will take place on Friday, April 29 at The Cooley Center at UTHealth in the Texas Medical Center.

“My opportunity at LoneStar LEND opened up my world and my thinking,” said Crystal Hansen, a former LoneStar LEND fellow. “The interdisciplinary didactic lectures enhanced my worldview on autism and other developmental disorders. Working side by side with a diverse cohort helped me see varied perspectives. LoneStar LEND helped me become a better practitioner and able to provide richer support to families.”

The LoneStar LEND program is currently welcoming applications for 2016-2017 from health professionals, graduate students, individuals with disabilities, and their families through May 15, 2016. Admissions are on a rolling basis, and early applications are encouraged! Interested individuals can learn more and apply at www.lonestarlend.org


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