Missing Chemical causing PTSD

New UAB program offers special needs training online for law enforcement
- February 17, 2017

         REACT is a unique public-private partnership created to align law enforcement and special needs communities to improve safety.

react ready
      A new educational program offered by the
University of Alabama at Birmingham
      School of Health Professions, in conjunction with the
Interaction Advisory Group
      , will train law enforcement to recognize and react to situations involving people with special needs.

Recognition and Evaluation of Autism Contact Training, or REACT, program
      , offered totally online, is open to all law enforcement serving across the United States.

      The online training is custom-designed specifically to be self-paced and learned without instructors present. A committee of UAB professors, working directly with experts from law enforcement and authorities in various areas of special needs, designed the curriculum to meet all standards of academic excellence.

police car streamA committee of UAB professors, working directly with experts from law enforcement and authorities in various areas of special needs, designed the curriculum to meet all standards of academic excellence.
      “The responsibility of an academic institution to address societal needs, especially in their own community, is not an option — it is an obligation we take very seriously,” said
UAB School of Health Professions
      ’ Dean Harold P. Jones, Ph.D. “This public-private partnership is a perfect example of our commitment to going beyond our obligation, because the REACT impact is such that it will not be felt solely in Birmingham, or only in Alabama. The online design means REACT has the potential to be felt in every community across the United States.”

      The REACT program, which had previously been taught only in a face-to-face format, evolved in response to incidents of law enforcement personnel mistaking certain behaviors from persons with autism or developmental disabilities as noncompliance or defiant behavior. The UAB-IAG partnership, recognizing the budget strains facing law enforcement across the nation, created the online format as an affordable solution accessible to everyone in an effort that would meet this growing societal need.

      Dustin Chandler, president and co-founder of IAG, is a former police officer and father of a daughter with special needs. He has witnessed both sides of this issue firsthand and sees the REACT program as a potentially lifesaving training solution for those with special needs and for law enforcement officers.

      “We understand first responders, parents and individuals with special needs all have the same priority — safety,” Chandler said. “We share that priority, and that is why our training emphasizes safety and provides officers with the information they need to safely interact with individuals with autism or a developmental disability.”

      According to the Autism Society, More than 3.5 million Americans are living with an autism spectrum disorder. When you consider a
study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
      that says one in five adults in the United States has a disability, the need for the REACT training is real and immediate for law enforcement and the public they serve.”

      “Individuals with ASD are sometimes misunderstood and misperceived as being difficult or oppositional, particularly when involved in high-stress situations,” said Sarah O’Kelley, Ph.D., director,
Autism Spectrum Disorders Clinic
UAB Civitan International Research Center – Sparks Clinic
      and associate professor in the UAB
College of Arts and Sciences
Department of Psychology
      . “Understanding that individuals with ASD may have different social skills and responses is extremely important for the community, including law enforcement officers.

"Because symptoms of ASD are not always obvious during these encounters, it is important that law enforcement officers appreciate that there are multiple ways to view a person’s behavior and to respond with that in mind."
      “Because symptoms of ASD are not always obvious during these encounters, it is important that law enforcement officers appreciate that there are multiple ways to view a person’s behavior and to respond with that in mind. Programs like REACT share a vision with a number of ASD-focused initiatives to increase the understanding of the ways that people are different from one another instead of focusing on what is ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ behavior in different situations.” “The question,” said Brian Hale, officer, Hoover Police Department, “is not if we will ever be on a call with an autistic person, but when. The REACT training is a must for all sworn law enforcement. As a former police officer, Dustin has a unique perspective and is able to relay the information in a way that all law enforcement and first responders can relate to and understand.”

      The REACT training involves real-world scenarios designed to deliver information to law enforcement in a way that is most retainable. Used in conjunction with in-person trainings, this is the best way to ensure the safety of the law enforcement community as well as the community each department serves.

      REACT, which has been endorsed by the
Autism Society of Alabama
      , is a unique public-private partnership that launched with face-to-face training. In an initial rollout in 2016, more than 700 law enforcement officers were trained in person throughout Alabama. In 2017, the UAB-IAG partnership will increase the number of law enforcement officers reached exponentially as development of the affordable asynchronous online program means training is now available to all communities across the United States.

Research Hodgepodge
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      Illustration of head with title: Diversity of Thought Neuroscience trainees navigate challenges beyond the lab

By Nancy Mann Jackson • Photos by Steve Wood

 Even though she possessed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s in biotechnology, Lillian Brady felt that she didn’t fit into the booming field of neuroscience. “As an underrepresented student, it can be easy to get into the mind frame that you don’t belong,” says Brady, a graduate of Alcorn State University, a historically black university in southwest Mississippi.

Photo of Lynn Dobrunz and Lillian Brady in labEach Roadmap Scholar works closely with a research mentor. Here, scholar Lillian Brady (right) meets with neurobiology associate professor Lynn Dobrunz.

But then the Jackson, Mississippi, native found a place where she fit in perfectly: UAB’s Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars program, which is designed to help engage and retain underrepresented graduate trainees—including ethnic minorities and students with disabilities—in the neuroscience workforce.

Brady, now a doctoral student in UAB’s Department of Neurobiology, calls the program a “confidence booster” that has provided both support and encouragement. “I’ve been exposed to scientists who look like me and who have had some of the same challenges I am facing now,” she says. “These scientists are thriving in their fields, so I have no doubt that I can be successful in whatever career path I choose.”

Strengthening the Pipeline

“Through our experience working with students, we realized the pipeline for diverse neuroscientists was leaky,” recalls Farah Lubin, Ph.D., associate professor of neurobiology. “We might start with many diverse, motivated students, but somehow, many of them don’t make it into successful careers.”

The problem isn’t talent or academic strength; rather, many students from diverse backgrounds or with disabilities may struggle with financial challenges, family needs, or a lack of confidence. Lubin and Lori McMahon, Ph.D., UAB Graduate School dean and UAB Comprehensive Neuroscience Center director, have seen such roadblocks dismantle the plans and goals of numerous students and coworkers.

Photo of Lori McMahon and Farah LubinRoadmap co-directors Lori McMahon (left) and Farah Lubin (right) serve as career coaches for scholars outside the lab.

To plug the pipeline’s holes, Lubin and McMahon developed Roadmap Scholars to emphasize mentoring, support networks, team-building experiences, and a community of peers to help guide more students to achieve neuroscience careers. Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the program launched in 2014. Today it includes 25 doctoral students.

The funding does not pay tuition or stipends; instead, it enhances and provides educational experiences to prepare students for further study and to encourage them to remain in neuroscience. And it works in tandem with the students’ graduate curriculum. For example, every Roadmap Scholar matches with a “career coach” in addition to a primary research mentor. The coach is a faculty member not on the student’s thesis committee who is available to talk about nearly anything—scientific projects, publishing and presenting, conflict management, or life in general, Lubin says. In doing so, these coaches provide additional professional perspectives and serve as an additional layer of support.

For Leland Fleming, a Fort Worth, Texas, native and UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences doctoral student, the program’s peer and faculty network has made his goal of becoming a neuroscientist more tangible. “With its guidance and inspiration, it has made a once seemingly impossible goal something that I feel more than capable of accomplishing,” he says.

Photo of Kristina Visscher and Leland Fleming in labLeland Fleming (right) with his research mentor, neurobiology assistant professor Kristina Visscher

Creating a Community

The support system kicks into gear even before the scholars’ first semester at the program’s summer NEURAL (National Enhancement of Underrepresented Academic Leaders) Conference, which draws neuroscience trainees from across the country. There, students can hone their networking and public speaking skills and interact with the field’s academic leaders. For instance, at the 2015 inaugural conference, leading neuroscientist Roger Nicoll, M.D., of the University of California San Francisco drew an emotional response from the audience when he spoke of succeeding despite his lifelong struggle with dyslexia.

For Fleming, key conference takeaways included insights on common challenges that minority students can face in graduate school. These might be “feelings of inadequacy or feelings that he or she is merely an impostor on the brink of being exposed at any given moment,” he explains. But he and other students also received “terrific advice on coping with these issues when they arise,” Fleming says.

Photo of Farah Lubin and Rylie Hightower in labLubin serves as a research mentor for scholar Rylie Hightower (right).

The conference also helps to build strong bonds among students. Matthew Timberlake, a second-year graduate student who grew up in Fort Worth and Enterprise, Alabama, has enjoyed helping his colleagues to design and present lectures—even sharing his own research data with them. “I like the sense of community,” he says. “My colleagues and I—especially the upperclassmen—have an important role in discussions,” he says. “We help to ease some of the unknown for the underclassmen. In the same way, I also benefit from the upperclassmen’s advice and guidance.”

Rylie Hightower, an Albuquerque native who came to UAB after earning a nursing degree in New Mexico, is one of the newer students benefiting from those discussions. At a Roadmap spring retreat, Hightower sought advice from older students. Those interactions “will help me throughout my time at UAB and beyond,” she says.

The program has “made me feel at home away from home,” Hightower says. “But it also has helped me understand that a supportive community can greatly contribute to the way I think and perform as a student and as a scientist.”

Photo of Lynn Dobrunz and Lillian Brady in labMatthew Timberlake (right) works with research mentor and psychiatry professor Yogesh Dwivedi.

The Road Ahead

Career planning is a key component of the program. Brady, who plans to obtain a postdoctoral position following her UAB training, found Roadmap’s “postdoctoral school” to be extremely valuable. She describes it as a weeklong crash course for senior graduate students covering “everything we need to know about postdoctoral positions. Not only were we given pointers on securing the right postdoc for our interest, but we also were exposed to postdocs in fields we might not have considered.”

Every student also learns about neuroscience-related job opportunities in business and industry. “Often, students are encouraged to build a career path focused on remaining in academia,” says Megan Rich, a Fairfield, Connecticut, native and UAB Graduate Biomedical Sciences student. “The program has been great about expressing other options after graduate school and that it is OK to think about them.”

By helping these students to feel empowered, capable, and supported, the Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars program will lay the groundwork for future progress in one of the fastest growing scientific fields, McMahon says. Lubin agrees, noting that diversity is crucial for continuing advancements: “Diverse groups can offer unique perspectives and unique ideas, which will push the field forward.”

• Learn more about the Neuroscience Roadmap Scholars Program, including how to apply.

• Give something and change everything for the next generation of neuroscientists by supporting the School of Medicine.

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