Program trains leaders to work with children with special needs

CMU graduate students learn through unique collaboration of six Michigan universities

| Author: Gary H. Piatek

‚ÄčKayla Welker is living the dream she had for her life when she graduated from high school in the Upper Peninsula town of Newberry, Michigan.

Mug-[Welker]"My plan from the get-go was to come back and serve the community that I grew up in," said the 2019 Central Michigan University graduate with a master's degree in speech-language pathology.

She works with area schoolchildren and Helen Newberry Joy Hospital patients as a speech-language pathologist.

"I wanted to be that person who can bring the latest knowledge and skills with me to make a difference," she said.

She credits the speech-language pathology program and faculty mentor MaryBeth Smith, who encouraged her to apply for a then-2-year-old interdisciplinary leadership training program. It is called Michigan Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities, or MI-LEND.

A collaborative program

MI-LEND is a two-semester interdisciplinary collaborative program that trains emerging leaders in maternal-child health professions. Participants' goals are to improve the health of people from infancy through adolescence who have or are at risk for neurodevelopmental disabilities and other special health care needs. MI-LEND is part of a national effort.

"Michigan is one of the few states that has the audiology supplement. That's a real bonus of our program here at CMU." — Melissa Tuttle, director of CMU's Psychological Training and Consultation Center.

Master's degree and doctoral students who are accepted receive a stipend and must complete at least 300 hours of collaborative training from highly regarded professionals and university professors from across the state.

CMU currently has three graduate students from Michigan in the program: Alex Winegar from Grand Haven in audiology, Haley Millis from Davison in speech-language pathology, and Jessica Rames-LaPointe in school psychology.

"By CMU taking part in this program, our students have the opportunity to get professional development that they otherwise wouldn't get," said Melissa Tuttle, director of CMU's Psychological Training and Consultation Center.

"Michigan is one of the few states that has the audiology supplement. That's a real bonus of our program here at CMU," she added.

In MI-LEND, students and professionals from a variety of disciplines teach and learn together. Instead of learning only about how their discipline works with children with disabilities, students learn how that ties in with the whole child and how to effectively advocate for them, Tuttle said.

They also learn from families and the individuals with disabilities about what is important to them and the obstacles they must overcome to access services, added AnnMarie Bates, CMU speech-language-pathology master clinical educator.

"The future of health care in general is moving toward being interdisciplinary and collaborative," she said.

Real-life outcomes

CMU doctoral student Robert Wyse is experienced on both sides of the equation. The Mount Pleasant-area school psychologist and 2019 MI-LEND graduate is a parent of two 4-year-old foster children with special needs.

His MI-LEND experience gave him the education and skills to professionally advocate to keep his children in general education instead of special education.

"I relied on my training in MI-LEND to give me the knowledge, confidence and language to advocate for our boys to be in a community preschool," he said.

"It really gets to me to see how much our foster boys are participating with and picking up from the other children."

Welker is similarly grateful for having been in the program.

"With Central and MaryBeth Smith behind me saying, 'You should do this. This is going to make you such a well-rounded and successful professional,' that gave me the push I needed to take the opportunity and use it to its fullest."

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