IL LEND Class of 2017. Photo Credit: Regina Meza

I discovered IL LEND the summer before my first semester in occupational therapy (OT) school at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Based on the flyer I received via email, it sounded like a great opportunity that would augment my graduate experience.  I applied, interviewed with the IL LEND director and OT liaison, and was accepted to the program.  Throughout this process, I had a vague idea of what being a LEND trainee would be like but could not find accounts from LEND alums on the ‘day-to-day’ LEND experience.  In this post, I will provide some insight on my experience as a LEND trainee in hopes that it will help prospective trainees conceptualize what it means to be in LEND.

LEND is a nation-wide, graduate-level training program.  The site at UIC focuses on pediatric neurodevelopmental disabilities, specifically autism.  IL LEND brings an interdisciplinary group of graduate students, parents of individuals with disabilities, and self-advocates together for weekly didactic sessions.  My year has students from various Chicago universities (e.g. Loyola University, Rush University, UIC, and University of Chicago) and communities.  There are also satellite sites at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University that Skype in.  Each week, we have guest lectures from healthcare practitioners, special educators, and researchers, which has helped me better understand healthcare from various lenses.  In addition to weekly didactic sessions, the clinical trainees (physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, nutrition, etc.) have bimonthly clinical sessions.  During these sessions, we’ve learned about various diagnostic tools for autism like the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R) and Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS).  A clinical psychologist administered a session of the ADOS and led a discussion on the ADI-R.  Though I will not use either tool in my practice, having a general understanding of how each tool functions will prove useful as I serve individuals with autism and their families.

In addition to attending class, LEND trainees complete a leadership project.  I worked with the LEND OT liaison to develop my project.  My project is evaluating an outpatient pediatric clinic’s short-duration therapy program and providing qualitative data that will shape its summer 2017 session.  I am also writing an article on family-healthcare professional partnerships with 4 trainees (LEND alum, nurse, developmental pediatrician, and occupational therapist) that will be submitted for publishing.  These experiences have connected me with various practitioners in the community and have allowed me to develop advanced leadership skills.

By the end of my LEND experience, I will have logged over 300 hours of didactic, clinical, community, and leadership experiences. Through my educational and leadership experiences, I have developed advanced leadership skills and a greater understanding of the Chicago community.  The knowledge and connections I have gained from LEND will extend far beyond my year-long commitment to the program, and I truly feel that I will be a better practitioner in the future because of my experience in LEND.