Educating Educators to Help Children with High-Intensity Special Needs

UConn researchers have received a $6.5M grant from the US Department of Education to develop a program to help young children with high intensity needs due to intellectual and developmental disabilities.

African American educator seated at table with two preschool aged children eating fruit


Infants and young children who have high-intensity learning needs like autism or intellectual disabilities do not always learn in the same ways as children without such challenges. Specialized curricular programs designed for children with high-intensity needs help them reach developmental, behavioral, and functional outcomes, reach their maximum potential, and work independently later in life.

Director of the UConn A.J. Pappanikou Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UConn UCEDD), Mary Beth Bruder has received a $6.5 million grant from the US Department of Education to develop a doctoral leadership program to train 28 future faculty. These trainees will then design and teach courses and programs of study designed to prepare teachers, social workers, and therapists to provide specialized interventions to infants and young children with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Bruder’s project will train a group of doctoral students across nine universities for future careers as researchers in this specialty area of early intervention, early childhood special education, and related services such as occupational therapy, social work or speech, language and pathology.  After meeting the doctoral program requirements, the students will obtain their degrees through the program and discipline in which they are enrolled. In addition to UConn, the universities participating in the consortia include: The Universities of Cincinnati, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Illinois, North Carolina, Washington, and Vanderbilt University.

In addition to their formal program of study at their respective institutions,  the students will have the opportunity to engage in advanced research and education specific to early childhood intervention for infants and young children with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities.  The doctoral students will also participate in various leadership activities to help them acquire competencies they will need as faculty. These include designing courses and teaching assignments, participating in the design and evaluation of policy and legislation, and implementing research studies. Both faculty and students will collaborate and work across all the consortia universities to form a network of experts who can be resources to other faculty, doctoral students, early childhood interventionists and families of infants and young children with high-intensity learning needs.

The consortia will also create a website to distribute and share curricular materials, tools, and resources to help the doctoral students in this program, and other doctoral students and faculty in higher education programs across the country.

“The focus on early childhood in our country today provides a wonderful opportunity to create a workforce for future generations of infants and young children who have disabilities, so they may reach their optimum potential through inclusive preschool, school and post school learning opportunities. The UConn UCEDD is privileged to help make this happen,” says Bruder.

To expand the impact of the consortia, it will partner with other Office of Special Education programs such as the Early Childhood Personnel Center, which is also directed by Bruder. This center oversees a $10-million project that helps states expand and improve the early childhood intervention workforce. Other partners include the Association of University Centers on Disabilities and Division for Early Childhood, Council for Exceptional Children.

“We are committed to training the next generation of special education researchers and university faculty, and participating in these two national leadership consortia will allow us to recruit and support the very best doctoral scholars in the nation to come and study at the UConn Neag School of Education,” says Michael Coyne, professor of educational psychology and a co-investigator on the project. In addition to Coyne, other investigators at UConn include Bernard Grela at from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Cristina Wilson at from the School of Social Work.

Mary Beth Bruder earned her Ph.D. from the University of Oregon in developmental disabilities in early childhood. Since 1976, Bruder has been involved in early childhood intervention research, and the design, provision and evaluation of early childhood intervention services across the country. At present, Bruder directs numerous federally funded pre-service, in-service, demonstration, and research projects. She is a professor of Public Health Science and Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and is the editor of the journal Infants and Young Children.

This project is award H325H190004.

Follow UConn Research on Twitter & LinkedIn.