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Funded Projects

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities

Project Website

Grant Status: Active

Training Category: Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND)

Project Director(s):

Toni Whitaker, MD
Center on Developmental Disabilities
University of Tennessee Health Science Center
62 S. Dunlap St., Suite 300
Memphis, TN  38163-0001
Phone: 901-448-6511


There is a national need to improve health outcomes in children with, or at risk for, neurodevelopmental and related disabilities (NDD), including autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Health disparities persist with poorer outcomes associated with poverty, minority status, and state of residence, particularly the states of the Deep South. There is a need to address these outcomes and disparities in the general population and in children with NDD/ASD.

Goals and Objectives:

The Universal Goal of this LEND project is to improve the health of infants, children and adolescents with, or at risk for, neurodevelopmental and related disabilities (NDD), with special attention to autism spectrum disorders (ASD), through preparation of graduate level trainees, enhancing skills of practicing professionals, and empowering families. Trainees are prepared to command leadership roles and to increase the capacity of communities to evaluate, diagnose, and treat children with NDD/ASD. This Universal Goal will be accomplished through 3 Goals and 22 outcome-based Objectives. Goal I: Interdisciplinary Leadership Curriculum. The 10 Objectives under Goal I develop, organize, and deliver comprehensive, competency-based, leadership training annually for 20 or more long-term graduate level trainees from diverse backgrounds, in 10 or more disciplines. Integrated health and community service systems, health equity, and attention to the complex health needs of those with NDD/ASD are emphasized. Person-/Family-centered approaches and culturally responsive content guide the training. Training is enhanced by collaboration with other LENDs and widespread use of technology. Goal II: Interdisciplinary Clinical Training and Research. The 7 Objectives under Goal II infuse supervised clinical experiences for 20 or more long-term, 55 or more medium-term, and 255 or more short-term trainees from a variety of disciplines through participation in and observation of clinical care in innovative practice settings and existing systems serving children with NDD/ASD and their families. Urban, rural, foster care, kinship care, and other settings provide great breadth to interdisciplinary clinical experiences. Trainees, with faculty supervision and mentorship, learn about research design, develop and implement projects, and present and publish results consistent with their level of training. Goal III: Strengthening Systems of Care through Partnerships and Continuing Education. The 5 Objectives in Goal III deliver continuing education and technical assistance in NDD/ASD to MCH and other professionals; national, state and community agencies; and families. These efforts emphasize evidence-based practices, coordinated systems of care, family support and advocacy, and emerging health needs of our communities. This Goal is organized around multiple national, state and local partnerships, including Title V and related agencies in Tennessee, the Centers for Control and Prevention, and national Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education, and Support (CARES) Act partners.


Formative and summative evaluations assess outputs and outcomes for each of the 22 Objectives. Program improvement efforts are driven by these evaluations.