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Maddie Swisher Madison Swisher, a first-year master’s degree student in the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, is completing a nine-month traineeship with the North Carolina Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Program in May. She will be the first CRMH student to complete the training. The LEND program at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) is dedicated to providing interdisciplinary leadership training, as well as services and care.

Swisher’s LEND classes include trainees from multiple professions such as audiology, psychology, nursing, genetic counseling, public health, and more. The classes also include both self and family advocates who share their insightful points of view. Two different classes meet every week during the fall and spring semesters.

In Swisher’s “Developmental Disabilities across the Lifespan” class, small groups work through a variety of cases together. Past cases have explored topics such as sexual violence and sexual education in the context of intellectual developmental disabilities, congenital Zika syndrome, and parenting a child of color on the autism spectrum.

As part of her traineeship, Swisher has also attended multiple leadership seminars, and has observed the Preschool Assessment, Consultation, and Training (PACT) clinic providers as they assess and diagnose children with developmental disabilities. She has co-led a social skills group for young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and her research project, “The Role of Focused Interests in Camouflaging ASD Traits,” received the 2020 CIDD Trainee Research Award. The award provides funding to compensate future study participants.

“LEND has been an incredibly life-changing experience. I feel more confident and prepared in working with people with developmental disabilities through such specified and comprehensive knowledge. By working in an interdisciplinary team, I have been exposed to topics through a different lens, which has inspired my future career goals in multiple different ways,” shared Swisher.

“With a mix of clinical practice, leadership seminars, interdisciplinary team case briefs, and research, my experience in LEND was empowering. I am passionate about promoting equal access to diagnostic and treatment programs, and counseling ASD through a neurodiverse strengths-based approach. Through LEND I feel more confident in my ability to enact change through research and counseling,” Swisher added.

Swisher’s research interests include gender and cultural differences in the early presenting symptoms of children with ASD, and equal access to diagnostic and treatment programs. Upon completion of her master’s degree, Swisher plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and work with children and young adults with developmental disabilities.

Division director Eileen Burker noted, “We are very proud and excited that Maddie was accepted as the first CRMH trainee in the LEND program. The multidisciplinary experience she is getting through the LEND program is invaluable.”

Eileen Burker, PhD, CRC, is the director of the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, housed within the Department of Allied Health Sciences. She is a professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry.