Season 5 - Episode 521
Families throughout the community benefit from the services provided by the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities (BCDD), serving those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other disabilities. In this Baylor Connections, Kristen Padilla, BCDD Director and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the School of Education, takes listeners inside the array of services provided by Baylor to address a disorder that impacts an estimated 1 in 44 children.
Derek Smith:Hello and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith and our guest today is Kristen Padilla. Kristen serves as director of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities and is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the School of Education. The Baylor University Center for Developmental Disabilities concentrates on addressing the complex issues of autism and other developmental conditions through its cooperative research, educational and service programs. The center is a collaborative partnership with Baylor University and Baylor Scott and White McLane's Children's, which is a part of the Baylor Scott and White Health Care System. Dr. Padilla is a licensed specialist in school psychology and a board certified behavior analyst. In addition to teaching, she supervises graduate students within the BCDD and works to enhance student training experience and research by building interdisciplinary partnerships within and outside the university. Lot of great work. I know a lot of families in the community know about you, but maybe a lot of other people don't. So excited we can share that today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Kristen Padilla:I'm really excited to share more about our center and thank you for having me today.
Derek Smith:Well, great to visit and let's start off with something that's coming right up off the bat here. I know many families probably have plans for summer camps in the weeks ahead and you do as well because you all have something fun and meaningful upcoming within the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities, BCDD. Do you use that shorthand?
Derek Smith:Okay. We'll use that as well. But you have autism summer camp upcoming. What is that and what are you looking forward to about that?
Kristen Padilla:Well, the first thing I'm looking forward to is that we can actually have it this year. Due to COVID, many of our services had to go to telehealth and some came to a quick halt because of the specific needs for clients. So it'll be great to see kids coming back this year for the event and having a good time for the summer. It provides a really unique opportunity for our graduate students that are training to be school psychologists to work with individuals with autism in a different type of setting other than the clinic setting. And I would imagine and I've seen it, that it brings a lot of joy to parents and puts their worries at ease and gives them comfort in knowing that, number one, that we have trained graduate students and trained faculty to address the specific needs of this population. The camp is being led by Dr. Kelsey Ragan, who oversees the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic, which is a component of the BCDD. And that their children get to experience camp just like all the other kids in the community. So it's a really great service that we are providing. It's very rewarding. Lots of fun. There's a lot of work and preparation that goes into the camp, just so that we are well aware of the specific needs for each of the participants in case any challenges arise.
Derek Smith:That's great. Well, and it runs May 30th through June 3rd this year. If were to visit or take a look and see what was going on, what are some of the things we might see taking place?
Kristen Padilla:Well, it's changed over the last couple years and that's just based on the specific needs of the client, things going on in the community. So each day, we do something different because just like any other kids, sometimes things can get a little boring to them. So we have to try to spice it up, keep it quick and keep them moving. So each day, they do something different. So, this year they're going to the Mayborn Museum, Cameron Park Zoo, the Union Underground here at Baylor to do some bowling and other games. They'll also have a water day, so we'll have some big water slides here right next to Fountain Wall for them to have some fun. And then they'll do one day at the center as well to do some activities there.
Derek Smith:That's great. So a lot of different activities that is upcoming. Well, so we visit with Dr. Kristen Padilla. Let's zoom out a little bit because we have faculty doing work within this space of autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities within the School of Ed where you are. I know we've had professors in neuroscience and psychology, even engineering, working on this. And a lot of focused attention into autism spectrum disorder. You've been around here a while. You earned your EDS at Baylor in 2010, your Ph.D. in 2020. In the middle of that, in 2013, the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities was formed. How have you seen the services for families with autism and Baylor's focus on ASD grow in that time?
Kristen Padilla:It has really grown tremendously and it has been quite a blessing to be able to witness that firsthand. Actually, when the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic was first founded in 2008 by Dr. Julie Ivey, that really was the foundation and what set the launch for the development of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities and all of its affiliate programs, clinics and grants. And I was actually a graduate student with the first social skills group that occurred at the time. And I came back to Baylor in 2012 to coordinate the BARC at the time and provide clinical supervision and training for our students, providing services to individuals in the community. And at that time, we had social skills groups, autism camp and small and individual group therapy. And that was it. But since then, we've had a substantial increase in the number of faculty within the School of Education, particularly in educational psychology, along with a growing number of graduate students in our program. So because our services are facilitated by students obtaining their clinical training for their respective fields, that has allowed the number of services to grow. So now we're offering psychological assessment. We're offering parent and teacher education training. We've provided training for law enforcement, health care staff and even other units here at Baylor University who work with young adults with disabilities. So in the past, we've also had sibling support group, parent support group, and due to that increase across the center, that has allowed us to increase the number of services. The other thing we've been blessed with is space. Space is a hot commodity here on campus and we started in a pretty tiny space when we first started in Draper Academic Building. And then we moved to Mars McLane Science and that shrunk a little bit and through the partnership with Baylor Scott and White McLane Children's, we were able to secure a space within the community that is more accessible to parents and others in the community. Parking is great. I love going to the center for that reason. It's within a health care facility and so we now have a lobby and a reception area and faculty and student work spaces as well as small and large rooms for classes, for trainings, for assessment and other intervention services.
Derek Smith:I'm curious. You personally, how did you become interested in pursuing this path and serving families with developmental disabilities?
Kristen Padilla:That's a really great question. I am a first generation college student. I came from a low income community right here in Waco, Texas. I am a University High graduate many, many years ago. And I graduated in psychology and sociology, and so I've always had a heart for the underserved, the vulnerable population. And when I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, I went through a series of different jobs after graduating and I became a preschool assistant at a school in Austin, Texas. You always have some child that has a specific need, whether that's social, emotional, behavioral. And my last year at the school, there was one child that I couldn't figure out. I didn't know how to best support him and he was having meltdowns and tantrums and engaging in severely challenging behaviors, aggression and what we call property destruction. Let's destroy the home center for Ms. Kristen. So I was puzzled by this and I was given these strategies from our director and other staff at the time and they weren't working. So I knew I wanted to do something in education and something in psychology and that's how I found school psychology and led me here to Baylor, back home, to learn more about how to best support individuals with any individualized need. They may not have a diagnosed disability. They may not have autism. They may have another type of disability. And trying to, one, conduct the assessment that determines what is their need and then what types of interventions am I going to provide that individual so that way they're successful in school.
Derek Smith:Talking with Kristen Padilla, director of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. So we know what brought you here and now we've heard a little bit about the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. You mentioned aspects of it like the BARC, the Baylor Autism Resource Clinic, but give us a verbal tour of what the BCDD is, how it's set up and if we started looking around, what we would see?
Kristen Padilla:So the BCDD is more like of an umbrella organization and usually when I talk about the center, I have this white board and I start drawing all of the affiliate programs. So as you mentioned, yes, the BCDD has multiple clinics and programs within the center that are led by faculty, primarily within educational psychology and the School of Education. And each clinic was designed to meet a specific need for particular programs. For instance, the BARC was set up to provide clinical training for future school psychologists, revolved around a specific population and that being autism spectrum disorder. Since then, it has grown to expand their clinical training, especially now. We have a PhD in school psychology now and so they're providing extensive therapy services, assessment services and identifying programmatically where school psychology will be going within educational psychology. But how are we going to enhance those clinical training opportunities for graduate students so that way they're excellent clinicians and researchers. The Clinic for Assessment, Research, and Education that is directed by Dr. Jessica Akers, who specializes in applied behavior analysis in that clinic was designed to provide a clinical training ground for master's level students obtaining their certification and behavior analysis. So they're providing individual and small group therapy to any age group, really within the community to work on communication, social skills, adaptive transition. But there's also a challenging behavior clinic that is led by her and Dr. Tania Davis to identify reasons individuals are engaging in challenging behavior and how we can provide interventions to teach appropriate replacement behaviors and reduce challenging behaviors. And we have multiple affiliate grants within the center that address different needs. What we're doing is conducting innovative groundbreaking research through our faculty masters and doctoral level students. But in turn that provides clinical training experiences for our graduate and undergraduate students that come for a specific program, or even just to volunteer to enhance their experiences, to apply for graduate schools specific for this population. But in turn, it provides a great community service.
Derek Smith:You mentioned the research aspect Baylor's now and R1 Research University and mentioned that we have professors doing research in this space. And I know you mentioned Tania Davis, and I know she and others. I know I've talked to Stephanie Jerome, others in the past. We got some professors doing some pretty fantastic research. That's what, receiving some really significant funding. So I guess, as you talk about these faculty working with people in the community and with students, it's worth noting that we've got people who are really advancing this discipline in some dramatic ways.
Kristen Padilla:Absolutely. When I first got here Dr. Tania Davis and Dr. Julie Ivey were just really volunteering outside of their work time to start this clinic that launched into a center and they weren't receiving any extra time, any extra pay. It was something they had in their heart and a passion to build programs, build research. And since then we have now over six affiliate faculty with the center. When we started out with just two, if not more. Right now we have increased the number of partnership grants. We have grants with individuals across the university, but we even have grants that we're partnering with other universities. Right now I'm the principal investigator for the ACT LEND grant that is a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University. And through that grant, we're providing interdisciplinary graduate student training for students and professionals in the area of autism spectrum disorder. So they take a course over the academic year that's taught by 12 faculty across the universities from various disciplines, such as special education, law, speech pathology. And they're learning from all of these different professors and how their research and practice is supporting individuals with autism and their families. So yes, have grown, or we have had significant number of research opportunities and publications through the faculty that are affiliated with the center that is providing such a great service to our community. So what's unique about our center is that while we're training our students at the master's level, that are going to go be clinicians right out of the gate, we have access to potential participants for our research studies. So some of our clients are in multiple clinics throughout the center. Some of them are in multiple research projects going on that helps us learn and better understand the individualized needs of these clients and individuals with ASD and their families and how we can develop interventions to best support them. And in turn, we are using research to inform the clinical training experiences that we're providing at the center for our students in session. So research is a huge and integral part of what we do at the center, whether it's conducting or applying that research.
Derek Smith:Well, some research you have to wait a long time to see the people it might impact. You all get to see them every day. What does it mean to you all to be able to do that and to have a... There's really a strong community, obviously, as you've just paint that picture, a strong community component to that.
Kristen Padilla:Getting to see that every day, whether it's just in the clinical training session or the outcome of the research it is absolutely rewarding. And those days of hard work, those hours that we're putting in, the tears that we've been through with parents, especially the clients at the time to see them be successful, that their parents see them be successful and that they themselves are like, "I can do this now." I mean, it is absolutely amazing to be able to witness that every day. To be the person that hears their first word when they're six years old in session. Of course, we may not always tell the parent that because we want them to hear the first word. But it is a joy and a rewarding experience. Even with those small little steps of success, we know that, hey, we got over this huge milestone and now that we're there, those skills are just going to keep coming.
Derek Smith:You think about the need here. Probably everyone either has someone in the family or knows someone who faces ASD or other developmental disorders. I know the numbers are pretty staggering. The CDC estimates that one in 44 children are born with some form of ASD metrics. Every family is different, but what is the need out there? Because I know families can feel like they're grasping at straws a little bit when they find out.
Kristen Padilla:Yes, absolutely. One of the things that we do at the center is when a family calls it's because they think their child has autism, or they got a recent diagnosis and they don't know where to go next. So we provide that consultation for them. And one of the biggest things that I've had to do since I've been here is describe being okay, what happens in the education system versus the medical system and how those sometimes work together and how sometimes they don't, or they don't align necessarily because the diagnoses may be different in those settings. So working with families to help them better understand how to seek and access services and to advocate for them and really empower them to say like, "You are the person that knows your child the best, and we are going to help you figure out the next step," whether that's through the school system, through a developmental behavioral pediatrician and walk alongside them, because it is a scary process. And even though some parents know their child has the diagnosis, when they first hear it, it can be very mixed emotions, heartbreaking all at the same time. So just walking through that with them and helping them understand that one it's going to be okay, and we're going to figure out how to best meet the needs of your child. So that being through assessment, that being through advocacy and support, helping them understand their sense of agency in the decision making is critical for that. But I would say the biggest thing is how do we figure out supports in the school, supports in the home and supports in the community?
Derek Smith:This is a broad question, but for families who maybe just received diagnosis or think their child might be on the spectrum in some form or fashion, what advice do you have? Because I know there's a lot of information out there that maybe well intentioned, sometimes isn't always the best I know that can be challenging for families to navigate.
Kristen Padilla:Yes. It is pretty challenging. And I think a lot of families will seek out things they find on Google or the internet, for sure. But looking for those initial resources within the community and what I've encouraged families to do that aren't here in Waco, Texas. I will tell them, go look at this specific department at this university that is closest to you because a lot of times they're doing things like we are doing, and they're closer to you. So looking at those specific resources, looking at community organizations that are set up for support for families. So here we have the Heart of Texas Autism Network that was launched years ago and provides a great initial start for families. Of course, seeking out our center and letting us guide them on maybe you should try this or that, if it's something that our center is not providing or can't provide because it's not our area of expertise. There's also lots of community events throughout, and I think Waco right now is doing such an excellent job of publicizing all of the wonderful things that are going on in our community. So looking for those opportunities, such as the Autism Walk run that happens, Join the Pride. I'm trying to think of other ones. But anyway, there are lots of events in the community that have resource fairs. So you're able to walk around those tables and find out, okay, this number of organizations are providing speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy or other types of assessment and intervention services. So I would highly encourage parents to seek someone out in the special education department of their child's school, talk with their doctor within the first two years of life, that child is seeing a doctor hopefully, maybe up to 13 times sometimes just to check on them. And the doctor should be giving developmental screeners because we want to catch them early. We want to say, "What are the signs," if they're not talking by a certain age or if they don't have a certain number of words by a certain age. If they're not making eye contact, talk with your doctor about those concerns and then find someone else in the community to work through those concerns so we can help identify the best next steps for you.
Derek Smith:Well, I know you work with a lot of great families. Now they have a lot of hard work that they're doing as they support their child. As we wind down, if someone hears something on this and they'd like to get involved or learn more about the opportunities and resources here at Baylor, what's the best way for them to make that initial contact?
Kristen Padilla:They can go to our website it's www.baylor.edu/bcdd and that has all of our contact information on there. All of the services we provide, the affiliate faculty within our center, how to contact us and just set up an appointment. We're happy to talk with you just to answer some initial questions and figure out how to best support you and your child or someone that you're caring for that has a disability.
Derek Smith:So baylor.edu/bcdd, easy to remember. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Thanks for the work that you and your colleagues are doing and hope it's a really fun summer camp and a great start to the summer for you all.
Kristen Padilla:Thank you for having me.
Derek Smith:Thank you very much, Dr. Kristen Padilla, director of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, our guest today on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder, you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections, and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.