New program designed to improve care for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities

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Pauline A. Filipek, M.D.

Pauline A. Filipek, M.D.

HOUSTON - (Aug. 22, 2011) - In an effort to better serve children with, or at risk for, autistic spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disabilities (ASD/ND), the Children’s Learning Institute at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is developing a collaborative program to enhance the clinical expertise and leadership skills of health care professionals across Texas dedicated to serving these children.

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 44 LEND programs located at universities or major children’s hospitals across the United States.

Pauline A. Filipek, M.D., director of The Autism Center at the Children’s Learning Institute, will serve as program director of LoneStar LEND, which will include 38 faculty members from institutions such as UTHealth, University of Houston, Texas Woman’s University, Baylor College of Medicine and University of Houston-Clear Lake. UTHealth schools involved in the program include the Medical School, School of Dentistry, School of Nursing, School of Public Health and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

It is estimated that more than 62,000 children in 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.

“Texas ranks 48th in children’s health performance, including access and affordability, prevention and treatment, equity, and the potential to lead healthy lives,” said Filipek, referring to a 2011 Commonwealth Fund report. “We also have a critical shortage of both professionals who are adequately trained to educate or treat individuals with ASD and skilled practitioners who can train other professionals to provide these services. Therefore, Texas is a perfect location for a LEND Program because we will produce leaders who can improve care and facilitate access to services for our neediest children with ASD/ND.”

Starting in September, the five-year program will use evidence-based practice solutions that emphasize cultural and linguistic competency, family-centered approaches and interdisciplinary care to improve the quality of health care delivery systems for underserved children with ASD/ND. The program will admit 10 trainees a year at the masters, doctorate and post-M.D. levels in 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 counseling and family.

Besides collaborating with other universities, UTHealth will partner with state agencies such as the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Interdisciplinary training will be provided at various sites, including UT-affiliated clinics, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, the UT Harris County Psychiatric Center, schools and community clinics.

Faculty members will help 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 through affiliations with Maternal and Child Health (MCH) organizations.

“In addition to training opportunities in Houston, our program will produce a large-scale continuing education webinar for Texas residents in order to reach the largest number of professionals and families and improve their knowledge base of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Filipek. “The LEND team hopes to change the face of autism in this state.”

Andy Heger
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030