UK’s LEND program helps provide effective care for children with developmental disabilities

Here in Kentucky and across the nation, there is an increased need for a qualified workforce to better serve the growing population of children with developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorder.

A new University of Kentucky Human Development Institute (HDI) program is helping to meet that need by equipping health and education professionals with the specialized skills and knowledge needed to effectively care for children with developmental disabilities.

Trainees in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program come from throughout the Commonwealth and gain critical clinical expertise and leadership skills to take back to their practice in communities, says LEND Project Director Caroline Gooden, Ph.D.

Effective care for children and youth with developmental disabilities requires commitment to evidence-based practices including screening and diagnosis. LEND provides a rich training ground needed for professionals to acquire best practices while becoming innovators and leaders in their respective fields.”

Caroline Gooden, Ph.D., LEND Project Director

Last year, UK received the five-year LEND grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), making it one of 60 LEND programs in the U.S. While each program is unique, they have a common goal to provide interdisciplinary training to improve the health of children with disabilities.

The LEND program is implemented by HDI in partnership with the University of Louisville and Eastern Kentucky University, as well as state agencies and partners including the Kentucky Department of Behavioral Health. Along with Gooden, the LEND leadership team includes Principal Investigator Kathy Sheppard-Jones, Ph.D., Director of Training Phillip Rumrill, Ph.D., and an interdisciplinary team of faculty from UK, EKU and U of L.

LEND supports nine trainees annually. Students in the 2021 cohort -; the program’s first -; include self-advocates and family members of people with disabilities, along with professionals in the fields of special education, social work, medicine and physical and speech therapy. Throughout the program, trainees are mentored by faculty experts in health sciences and education disciplines from UK and partner universities.

While it is becoming increasingly common for health and education professionals to interact with clients and patients that have neurodevelopmental disabilities, the training for many disciplines may not emphasize this. LEND is helping to meet that need, says Gooden.

“Each student will apply the specialized learning they get from LEND to their own unique practice, while also sharing with other professionals in their communities, improving the health and quality of life of Kentuckians with disabilities,” Gooden said.

The LEND program is now accepting applications for the next academic year. Visit to learn more and apply online.