AUSTIN, Texas – Texas has taken an important step forward in training leaders in service to children and adolescents with autism and other disabilities. The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Center for Disability Studies (TCDS) was awarded the prestigious LEND grant to develop the next generation of interdisciplinary leaders prepared to improve the lives of youth with disabilities and their families.

The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program, or LEND, was awarded by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau to UT Austin in collaboration with Texas State University and Baylor University.  A network of 60 LEND programs in the United States prepares trainees from a wide range of disciplines to assume leadership roles in their fields to improve the lives of children and adolescents with disabilities. Beginning July 1, TCDS, a part of the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at UT, will join this large network.

“We are so excited to have a LEND program in Central Texas,” Dr. Sandy Magaña, director of TCDS said. “Our goal is to train the workforce to better serve children and families with disabilities, especially those from underserved racial, ethnic and rural populations in Texas.”

The LEND Award was the result of collaborations across the UT campus and Central Texas through the Autism Consortium of Texas led by Magaña.  Other faculty members involved in the effort come from the Dell Medical School, the schools of Nursing and Law, and the departments of Special Education, Speech Language and Hearing and Psychology. Texas State University and Baylor University bring several disciplines as well. The program is called ACT LEND, named after the Autism Consortium of Texas.

“Receiving a LEND award is a major recognition of UT’s strengths in autism and disabilities research,” said Jennifer Lyon Gardner, UT’s Deputy Vice President for Research who championed the cause by providing seed money support in developing the LEND proposal. “Sandy and the TCDS will be able to leverage the support from LEND to create a training program backed by evidence and informed by scholarship happening across our campus. Ultimately this program will help Texans on the autism spectrum, as well as their families and support networks, thrive.”

Self-advocates, family members and graduate students will participate as trainees and will focus on supporting diverse areas across Texas. Trainees will complete 300 hours of training which includes clinical sessions, leadership conferences, family mentoring and a research project.