"I kept a quote that one of my students sent me, and it says, "Too often we complain about the darkness. 'I don't like this job. These people are so negative. Nobody has a good attitude,'" said Kristen Padilla-Mainor, Director of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities (BCDD). "Ask yourself, 'Why do you think God put you there? They don't need more light in bright places. That's an opportunity for you to shine.' I've kept that with me."
The BCDD is a place where Padilla-Mainor can shine a bright light. It contains four clinics-The Baylor Autism Resource Clinic; The Clinic for Assessment, Research, and Education; The Speech and Language Clinic; and the Baylor Spring Literacy Clinic. She's served as director since 2015 but has been instrumental in the development and operations since its inception in 2013.
Individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities that might include Down syndrome, ADHD or expressive and receptive language delays can receive services. The Center is a collaborative partnership between Baylor University and Baylor Scott & White McLane Children's and is located at the Hillcrest MacArthur Center in Waco.
"We try to provide training experiences for our undergraduate and graduate students specializing in certain areas, while they provide services to children and their families," said Padilla-Mainor, who also oversees the clinical work of students there.
Students from a variety of disciplines including social work, applied behavior analysis, school psychology, and speech and behavior provide families wrap-around care.
Regan Weston, a PhD Educational Psychology major, is a graduate student researcher and clinical supervisor for the BCDD. "Kristen is exhausting resources, developing relationships and working toward growing the center into a large multi- and inter-disciplinary organization," she said. "Not only will it provide many opportunities for research, education and collaboration across the Baylor community, but it will also meet the needs of so many underserved families in the Waco community."
Padilla-Mainor chose her field because of an experience while teaching pre-K early in her career. A student with behavioral issues prompted her to seek out ways to help.
"I'll never forget trying to work with this student and also being asked to do things above and beyond my job description to meet the needs of this one child. At the time as an inexperienced educator, I didn't see how I was going to be able to do that when 22 other kids were needing my help," she said.
Today, this same area is where her research is focused-positive behavior intervention for students with challenging behaviors. Her other research interests include interventions for children with autism spectrum disorder and assessments utilized in behavior analysis.
Research in behavior analysis assessments is very limited and Padilla-Mainor aims at producing research that supports the validity and reliability of these instruments.
"You're making decisions about a child, whether or not they have a specific skill, so we need to make sure we're using research-based assessments," she said.
Padilla-Mainor's work extends far beyond the BCDD. In 2016, her work came full circle with Waco ISD, the same school system she graduated from and once worked at as a licensed specialist in school psychology. She was awarded a two-year grant to work with educators to meet the needs of students with behavioral challenges.
"The goal of this project is to train a core behavior support team who would then train the campus faculty on implementing, monitoring and managing a behavior support system at this elementary campus," she said, adding they hope the next step is district-wide implementation.
Five graduate students are working in the school to implement what's known as positive behavioral interventions and supports, or PBIS, as part of the grant. PBIS is a continuum of positive behavior approaches used with all students in a school. Baylor students consult with and train teachers, assist with behavioral interventions and evaluations, and collect data.
As she works to make an impact both in the lives of Baylor students and the children she serves, Padilla-Mainor said, "My favorite thing about all of this is that I get to work with students who are training for their future career and at the same time we're helping kids and their families. It's a win-win."