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UNSOM Health Watch: LEND Program Expands Autism Training


For this week’s Health Watch segment, we join Susan Hill from the University of Nevada School of Medicine (UNSOM)  to learn more about a training program called LEND. It's for professionals and families working with children who have autism or other neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Susan spoke with Associate Professor Dr. Debra Vigil as well as Diane Thorkildson, both with the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology for the School of Medicine. 

Vigil says their mission is to help kids with disabilities by expanding the training for specialists in several fields related to disorders like autism. Those fields include genetics, audiology, psychology, and behavioral pediatrics, among many others. In Nevada, the LEND program trains specialists across the state and family members are included in the program so that their child's care can remain family-centered.

Diane Thorkildson is one of those parents. Her daughter has had several neurodevelopmental delays since infancy and is now in fifth grade.

"If you were to see her just mingling with an average group of typically-developing fifth graders," Thorkildson says, "you wouldn't be able to pick her out as somebody who's been in services since she was an infant."

Thorkildson's daughter still has some academic issues that her family and teachers are addressing, but her mom is convinced that early intervention has worked.

"I kind of shudder to think what she might look like," Thorkildson says, "if we hadn't had all of those services, but they make a huge difference in people's lives."

Families who are concerned about their child can seek services through a pediatrician or by contacting Nevada Early Intervention Services (for kids aged 0-3) and the Child Find Project (for kids aged 3-5), which is part of the Washoe County School District.

Michelle Billman is a former news director at KUNR Public Radio.
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