Confronting Neurodevelopmental Disabilities

Roughly 10 percent of American households live with an individual with a neurodevelopmental disability, every day grappling with the emotional, logistical, and financial burdens brought on by these conditions.

Data from the 2012 U.S. Census shows that approximately 1.2 million American adults, or 0.5 percent of the population, had an intellectual disability or mental retardation, while 0.4 percent of Americans over the age of 18 — 944,000 people — had some measure of cognitive disability. And according to recent data published by the American Community Survey, 3.8 percent of children in metropolitan areas and 4.8 percent outside metropolitan areas have a “cognitive difficulty.”

Children's Hospital’s Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Training Program (NDTP) was established as a joint initiative of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania in 1998 and is supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Children’s Hospital neuroscientist Michael Robinson, PhD, was one of the co-founders and currently serves as the director of the program, which recently received another five years of funding totaling more than $1.7 million from NINDS.

“These disorders have diverse genetic and environmental causes, but they share many co-morbidities. Therefore the rationale was to bring together researchers from diverse training backgrounds and scientific expertise to both advance interdisciplinary training and encourage collaboration,” said Dr. Robinson.

The NDTP pairs trainees with faculty mentors, who provide advanced research training designed to help the trainees achieve their career goals. In addition to working closely with a mentor, NDTP trainees attend lectures and seminars, take courses, participate in clinical practica, and develop other skills, such as grant writing.

Trainees who have taken part in the program come from a variety of disciplines, including neurology and neuroscience, physics, and clinical psychology. Of the 26 trainees who have completed training, 13 have taken faculty positions at prestigious academic institutions across the country and continue their studies.

“It is gratifying to support such a talented group of individuals. Like a parent, I’m proud of the accomplishments of these trainees.” Dr. Robinson noted.