Advocates of Change: ACT LEND

The Autism Consortium of Texas (ACT) Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) is a collaboration between Baylor University, Texas State University, and the University of Texas at Austin. The program brings together graduate students from diverse health disciplines who seek to improve care for children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities.

January 23, 2024

Modern day health and human sciences have helped to advance the type of care that one can provide for a patient in need. But no matter how technologically advanced our healthcare system has become, human interactions and sociocultural aspects still play a large role in both the treatment and care of a patient. Programs such as the Autism Consortium of Texas (ACT) Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) create disciplines that allow for the progression of such patient-provider interactions.

ACT LEND, managed by the Texas Center for Disability Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is a collaboration that includes Baylor University and Texas State University. The program brings together graduate students from diverse health disciplines such as physical therapy, speech and language pathology, special education, and social work. In addition to graduate students, the program advances the training of family members, self-advocates, and clinical providers.

Each cohort experiences nine months of training, including coursework, hands-on experiences, mentorship, research and presentation opportunities, and seminars. These experiences teach students be more intentional while working with children with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities throughout Central Texas.

Megan Flores, PT, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor for Baylor’s Department of Physical Therapy, serves as the Department’s faculty liaison with ACT LEND.

“One of the best parts of the ACT LEND program is the emphasis on training not just students, but also family members, self-advocates about advocacy, and support for people with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities,” Flores said. “I also like the interdisciplinary focus, which allows trainees to learn from faculty across all areas that interact with and treat people with autism spectrum disorder. Students in the program also have the opportunity to tailor their experience in ACT LEND by working with a mentor.”

Recent Baylor graduate, Kathryn Carley, PT, DPT, EP-C, was a member of the 2022-2023 ACT LEND cohort. While participating, Carley focused her research on elevating the clinical awareness for autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disorders, hoping to bring to light a need for physical therapists to be better educated in assisting these individuals.

Recent DPT graduate, Kathryn Carley, poses in front of her ACT LEND poster presentation.

The need for elevated clinical awareness, specifically targeted within in the realm of physical therapy, piqued her interest after she noticed limited research and discussion within the profession. With Flores as her mentor, Carley developed a proposal for an educational session at the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) national conference, discussing how to adapt orthopedic physical therapy practices.

“I have personally run into scenarios, where a physical therapist that I was working with wasn't well prepared to treat an individual who had specific or special needs,” Carley said. “So, the discussion needs to be about how to adapt practices to make the experience as comfortable as possible for those individuals and to elevate the quality of care that they receive.”

Carley noted that advocating for an inclusive health care system, will help to provide for those without a current seat at the table. But because that seat is important, a main function of ACT LEND is to support self-advocacy in individuals who have special needs. Through learning opportunities, for individuals and families alike, the program is creating leaders who can speak for others who may walk in their same path.

“Research shows that patients better connect with health care professionals and care providers who share similar backgrounds with them,” Carley said. “Everyone wants a provider that they can resonate with in some way, shape, or form.”

Carley is passionate to spread ACT LEND’s mission and hopes students from the Department of Physical Therapy take advantage of future opportunities. She believes that by advocating alongside people living with disabilities, ACT LEND will deliver a better experience for everyone who enters a clinical setting.

“As clinicians, we must be truly capable of meeting every patient where they're coming from, no matter disability, background, socioeconomic, or racial status,” Carley said.

The Department of Physical Therapy welcomes students to participate in the ACT LEND collaboration. For anyone who is interested in applying to be part of ACT LEND’s 2024-2025 cohort, more information can be found on their website or reach out to or