An Interview with the UC Davis MIND Institute

A Treasure Box of Resources for Neurodevelopmental Disorders
By Michelle Kopkash

Though Greater Sacramento is known for its Gold Rush days, it’s today’s landscape, rich with contemporary gems providing services to families, that makes this spot a viable, booming location.

One such gem is the UC Davis MIND Institute (short for “Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders”), with locations in Sacramento and Davis. Here, individuals receive accurate diagnoses, treatment options and resources for neurodevelopmental conditions including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome and comorbid conditions such as anxiety.

In order to uncover the institute’s most valuable services available to families navigating the complex terrain of neurodevelopmental challenges, I interviewed a leading figure at the MIND Institute—Executive Director Leonard Abbeduto, Ph.D.

I found that the UC Davis MIND Institute is an overflowing treasure box of helpful resources. The institute, which is primarily a research center, leads the world in groundbreaking, investigative work that seeks to discover the causes of neurodevelopmental disorders and find ways to improve the lives of those who live with these conditions through better and more accessible treatment options.

In addition to the revolutionary research studies conducted by its faculty, the UC Davis MIND Institute also offers a clinic, which, as mentioned above, works with families and individuals to diagnose and treat an array of disorders. A number of other community resources, events and opportunities are available to locals as well.

What makes the UC Davis MIND Institute a leading clinic in the region?
There are a lot of other wonderful clinics out there; we aren’t the only providers. With that said, these are the best group of clinicians I’ve ever worked with. Our faculty come from all over UC Davis and therefore, we have a very diverse group of professionals who bring expertise and ideas to the table that can help families. Many of our clinical providers [who help diagnose individuals and provide individualized treatment plans] are also our lead researchers, which means that they’re on the cutting edge of any informational breakthroughs in the field.

What are some of the resources that the MIND offers to local families?
For one, I’m really proud of the information we give online, including many resources in the Spanish language, because we want to extend our reach to families in the community.

We also have an in-person resource center [that is a collaboration between the UC Davis Mind Institute and the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities] that helps folks to get connected to educational resources.

Periodically, we have “Minds Behind the MINDS,” a lecture series that is open to the public and gives great information on our latest research findings. And, all of our lectures are available on video on our website for those who can’t attend in person.

I’d also point readers to our Facebook page, as we sometimes organize community events [such as yoga/game nights] or conduct live interviews with some of our professors who study autism and the like, where attendees are able to ask questions and get answers from our experts.

Are there any support groups or training programs that parents should know about?
Yes, there are several. We have an ADHD Behavioral Parent Education Group that offers the opportunity to learn about the condition and also connect with other parents. There’s also a Social Skills Training Group Program for children who are 8 to 17 years old and have been diagnosed with autism. And, there’s a free online training course called ADEPT Interactive Learning [Autism Distance Education Parent Training] that teaches parents applied behavior analysis techniques—also known as ABA—that will help them more effectively teach functional skills to their children with autism.

Is there an age range that your center focuses on more than others?
No, we focus on the entire lifespan of the person. We see children in the clinic who are as young as 18 months old, as well as teenagers and adults. We generally are very broad around these disorders in regard to treatment and strive to help people through every life stage. For example, we have a social skills program that helps young adults learn how to be independent. We also have a group for parents of children with ADHD, as I mentioned before.

The MIND is a leading research center. Would you say there are any benefits of participating in a research project?
Yes, for parents who are trying to find answers for their children, becoming participants in research studies can oftentimes lead to a greater understanding of their child’s diagnosis. We will oftentimes provide evaluations and information to the families who are enrolled, so they end up learning a lot through the course of the study. Many times, participants get connected to other resources that are helpful for their diagnosis all well.

What research program currently captures your heart?
I’m interested in language and communication challenges. I research the use of technology to assist parents in a parent-implemented treatment program where we help kids learn ways to reduce challenging behaviors and improve language via Skype. This means that clinicians work in real-time with the parents via Skype to coach them through the challenging behaviors that their child exhibits. This reduces the burden of travel and gives larger access to treatment for families that don’t have the ability to come to us. It’s my hope that our research will enable other providers and clinicians to expand their reach throughout the nation so that more families have access to get the help they need. In essence, we are interested in learning how we can be a clinic without walls in a virtual space to help more families. And, we hope to train others to use this technology to treat patients as well.

Do you only see people who have UC Davis medical insurance?
A large majority of our patients in the clinic have UC Davis Medical Group health insurance, but we also see people who have the ability to pay out-of-pocket. In addition, we try hard to help families connect with providers in their networks if it isn’t a viable option to pay out-of-pocket to see our providers.

Outside of our clinic, we invite people to visit our resource center and to participate in the free community events, research studies and online training classes.

To learn more about UC Davis MIND Institute visit http://ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/mindinstitute/.

Michelle Kopkash is a local freelance writer. She’s got two spunky kids and loves being in nature with her family. Visit her website at www.michellekopkash.com to view her writing portfolio, services and blog.

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