When children are born with complex needs, service providers from diverse professional backgrounds must work together to form personalized support plans that not only benefit each individual child, but also their families.
A key component to effective service delivery is the training of professionals with interdisciplinary expertise, and thanks to a new five-year, $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, graduate students who are interested in serving young children can gain collaborative clinical experience and earn an advanced degree through the UGA College of Education's Preparation of Interdisciplinary Providers (PIPs) Project.
In addition to providing funding for both in-state and out-of-state students pursuing a master's degree or education specialist degree in either special education with an emphasis in birth through kindergarten (B-K) or in communication sciences and disorders, the project offers collaborative learning and training across a range of disciplines, including speech language pathology, special education as well as physical and occupational therapy.
"The idea is really around providing interdisciplinary training so our students can leave with a skillset that allows them to collaborate with a variety of professionals that are serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers with complex needs," said Rebecca Lieberman-Betz, associate professor and principal investigator of the project. "The models of best practice dictate that service providers should collaborate in a way that provides comprehensive support without overburdening or taxing the family."
To help students develop the necessary skills for collaborative teaming and data-driven decision making, a team of project collaborators will support the instruction of students, including Georgia Part C programs, which provide scholars with a multitude of interdisciplinary instructional and applied experiences for young children, and the Georgia Parent Infant Network for Educational Services, an early intervention program for infants, toddlers and preschoolers with vision and/or hearing loss.
As part of an ongoing collaboration with programs supporting individuals with complex needs, Cynthia Vail, professor and co-principal investigator of the grant, will continue to lead the Georgia Sensory Assistance Project, the state's technical assistance center for deaf-blind individuals in the College of Education.
Along with affiliate faculty and community partners with diverse expertise, the grant provides training to students in areas ranging from assistive technology and augmentative and alternative communication to early intervention systems and home-based practice.
"One of the unique things about this program and the whole emphasis of our work is to help families," said Jennifer Brown, assistant professor and co-principal investigator of the PIPs Project. "What we do is centered around the family's priorities, their goals and their daily routines and activities. It's not us coming in and saying do these things, it's about developing intervention strategies together as partners, professionals and parents."
Over the years, evidence-based intervention delivered by interdisciplinary providers has been shown to change the developmental trajectory of children with disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.
For example, a collaborative plan formed by highly-qualified personnel can help nonverbal children learn how to use both high- and low-tech augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices and other assistive technologies that allow them to interact and engage with others on a higher level. By involving experts in the instruction of various modes of communication, the grant enables students to gain an extra layer of knowledge and applied experience using a variety of communication systems, while also developing content knowledge on team-based problem solving and critical thinking.
"We want to teach the students as part of their training that they're not treating the disability, they're providing services for individual children and families," said Lieberman-Betz. "We're targeting scholars who want to work with this population, that have a desire to work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers with complex needs and their families and to be a part of an interdisciplinary team that provides those services."
For more information on the PIPs Project, contact Lieberman-Betz at firstname.lastname@example.org.