link to: University of Minnesota

Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities

Families as Teachers


It is a fundamental belief of the MNLEND program that professionals working with children, youth and young adults, with neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD), must understand the role that families (and social connections) play in fostering health and development of young people. We believe that an authentic understanding is best achieved by integrating Families as Teachers component into the Fellows learning experience.

The Families as Teachers Experience is designed to be a mentorship involving the exchange of ideas, experience and expertise between the Fellow and their Teaching Family. Fellows are matched with a Teaching Family based upon the Fellow’s learning objectives and specific interests, and the teaching family’s desire to share “a slice of life” on their journey for a meaningful and mutually beneficial experience. Families are interviewed and selected for their experience in advocating for services for their child, navigating complicated and often emotional systems and supports, and their willingness to share their journey with the Fellow.

For Teaching Families, the goal of the Families as Teachers experience is that families become the teachers sharing with the Fellow what it is like, in their own personal experience, to have a child or young adult with a disability or special health care need. Teaching families are encouraged to invite LEND Fellows to share their experiences at IEP meetings, therapy appointments or just hanging out at home. The teaching family and the LEND Fellow will decide. We hope teaching families will share their thoughts and feelings, including the good times and bad times, so that LEND Fellows can see “the whole picture” of what it is like to be a family with a child or young adult with a disability.

The goal of the Families as Teachers experience is to strengthen the Fellows knowledge and skills in practicing inter-disciplinary, family-centered, culturally competent ways to meet the needs of families. Specific learning objectives for Fellows include:

  • To learn about the emotions experienced and stages of adjustment parents/caregivers go through when a child is diagnosed with a disability that requires ongoing care.
  • To understand the impact a child with NDD and special health care needs may have on the entire family.
  • To demonstrate an increased understanding of daily issues families face.
  • To consider obstacles, challenges, opportunities and outcomes of school and community inclusion for children with NDD.
  • To articulate an understanding of families’ experiences accessing systems and resources.
  • To appreciate the information, resources and support families gain from each other.
  • To understand the importance of family-centered practices.
  • To develop a strengths-based empowerment orientation in working with families.

A little girl smiling.

“I appreciated meeting such engaging scholars interested in topics related to the betterment of children and individuals with disabilities. Our experience this year was a perfect match. I expect that I will keep in contact with our fellow for years as I will follow her endeavors and research. We made a great match and will likely be able to mentor each other for years. I also liked being able to share the experience of our journey with others in education. It is so helpful for the fellows to meet the child, and our fellow did so much more by coming to school meetings, and seeing services in our home, and attending medical appointments. I think our fellow got a lot more out of the experience by being open to attending such a variety of experiences. Raising children with unique and challenging medical needs is a journey and there are so many different areas for parents to navigate. It was a wonderful experience to connect our fellow with some of my mentors in the field and for her to see how parents cope and "keep on keeping on." We thoroughly enjoyed our experience with the LEND program.”

Stacey Vogele, LEND family participant 2013