Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities provides care to foster sense of belonging

A teacher from the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities works alongside a child. Photo courtesy of Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities

By Ashlyn Beck | Staff Writer

The Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities is working to better serve individuals with disabilities and their families by providing care and education.

Dr. Kristen Padilla, clinical associate professor of educational psychology, has served as director of the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities for 10 years.

“The goal of our center is to really engage in and conduct interdisciplinary research, kind of broadly speaking, of disability,” Padilla said.

Ultimately, Padilla said the center allows those with disabilities to understand how to be successful after high school and what options are available for them vocationally.

“We want them to be independent adults and feel like they have self-determination and to live their own lives, but sometimes they need a little more education and … experience to do that,” Padilla said.

The center primarily serves individuals with disabilities but also extends care to their families, Padilla said.

“As we know, when an individual and a family is struggling in a specific area, that has different impacts on the family as a whole,” Padilla said.

Padilla said parents of those with disabilities are often unaware of their rights as parents and what the next steps after diagnosis should be.

“We’re also going to offer a parent education training series that really talks about … how do they navigate the educational medical model of diagnosis and intervention,” Padilla said.

Dr. Jessica Akers, assistant professor of educational psychology, is the coordinator of the Clinic for Assessment, Research and Education, which is affiliated with the Baylor Center for Developmental Disabilities. Akers said the education and psychology departments work in tandem, with faculty supervising the programs.

“We provide behavior analytic services … for challenging behavior, [and] we do assessment and intervention,” Akers said.

Padilla said the center provides a way for students in the departments of education and psychology to learn how to interact with and teach both individuals with disabilities and their families.

“But we’re also training students in other aspects that go beyond the clinic — so working with families, working with teachers, working with pastors, working with churches and other individuals in the community,” Padilla said. “We are … training others but [also] educating others to better serve this population.”

The demand for autism assessment is high, and there are not very many organizations offering it, Padilla said.

“We are one of the very few entities outside of the school setting offering autism assessment in the community,” Padilla said.

Additionally, Padilla said the center offers more individualized care than other options in the area.

“What we specifically do in our center is we offer therapy that is counseling for those that are needing some more individualized support for specific counseling needs,” Padilla said. “It could be anxiety and depression or social skills … things that they’re dealing with in the school or community setting.”

The bottom line is that the center hopes to provide those with disabilities with the opportunity to feel not only accepted but also loved, Padilla said.

“That’s … the reason we’re doing this research,” Padilla said. “It’s important for these individuals to be included, to be accepted and feel a sense of belonging in our society. We can always invite somebody to the table, but what are we doing as a society and as a culture and as a community that they feel like they belong?”