VCU project will train educators, physical therapists how to more effectively serve young children with significant disabilities

Share this story

Virginia Commonwealth University researchers and teacher educators have received a $1.09 million grant to train early childhood special education and physical therapy professionals how to more effectively address the needs of children with significant disabilities.

Yaoying Xu, Ph.D.
Yaoying Xu, Ph.D.

The five-year grant, “Project 3IP: Interdisciplinary and Intensive Intervention Preparation for Professionals Serving Young Children with Significant Disabilities,” was awarded by the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education.

“The overarching goal of Project 3IP is to increase the quantity, quality and capacity of interdisciplinary early intervention personnel in order to improve the learning and developmental outcomes of infants and young children with significant disabilities,” said principal investigator Yaoying Xu, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the VCU School of Education.

Project 3IP will provide training to 20 early childhood special education and 10 physical therapy professionals through the School of Education’s master of education in early childhood special education program and the School of Allied Health Professions’ doctor of physical therapy program. The scholars will receive intensive training across three disciplines: education, physical therapy and pediatrics.

“Through systematic training, Project 3IP scholars will increase their knowledge, skills, and dispositions for intensive and individualized intervention for children with significant disabilities including multiple disabilities, significant cognitive disabilities, significant physical disabilities, significant sensory disabilities, significant autism and significant social or emotional disabilities, in least restrictive environments,” Xu said.

Project 3IP will involve collaborators from VCU’s Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions and the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.

Co-investigator Bergen Nelson, M.D., a general pediatrician in the Department of Pediatrics and a health services researcher with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, said she is excited to collaborate with the School of Education in a multidisciplinary effort to prepare professionals who will serve young children with disabilities.

“In this new project, my role will be to provide a pediatric perspective, helping to design the curriculum and giving lectures and seminars related to medical and neurodevelopmental issues, and care coordination for children with medical complexity,” Nelson said. “I also hope to bring the perspectives of the early childhood education and physical therapy faculty to students and residents training in pediatrics. My hope is that this collaborative effort will ultimately prepare young professionals to take better care of children with disabilities, and to help families navigate a complex system of care.”

Stacey C. Dusing, Ph.D., a board-certified clinical specialist in pediatric physical therapy, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and director of the Motor Development Lab, is also a co-investigator on Project 3IP. She will assist in recruiting and advising physical therapy students, contribute to the training, and work with the team to ensure students have opportunities for interdisciplinary teamwork in early intervention through community partnerships.

“As an associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions I help train 54 entry-level physical therapists per year to have the ability to provide pediatric physical therapy,” she said. “However, the Project 3IP will allow a few PT students the opportunity to expand their pediatric knowledge, while also training to provide interdisciplinary care to enhance the lives of children with disabilities and their families beyond what can be provided in an entry-level physical therapy curriculum.”

Dusing said she wanted to take part in Project 3IP in order to help increase the number of physical therapists who are prepared to provide “outstanding team-based early intervention services immediately following graduation.”

“Project 3IP will give enrolled students the opportunity to advance their knowledge and skills in a way most professionals do not achieve until they have been practicing for years,” she said.

The project will also involve working with community partners, such as early intervention agencies, early childhood special education and related services within local school districts, VCU child development centers and community-based private childcare programs.