Lane Strathearn, MBBS, PhD, is director of the division of developmental and behavioral pediatrics and the physician director of the Center for Disabilities and Development. Strathearn is one of only a handful of National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded developmental pediatricians in the nation. A native of Australia, he joined University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in 2015.
How did you choose your area of specialization?
When I was doing pediatric training, I was drawn to children who had experienced neglect and abuse. I had seen children in the hospital with these issues, and I did some research on the risk factors for children who are exposed to abuse and neglect. At the time, it was an evolving field. Eventually, I met a researcher from Texas who was doing some interesting research on how maltreatment affects the brain and how the brain affects development. This led me to a fellowship at Texas Children’s Hospital in developmental pediatrics.
What is the role of the Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD)?
We focus on patients with developmental disabilities. This includes children with behavior problems. Often these overlap with developmental delays. Toddlers who have a delay with speech often have tantrums related to their inability to communicate. We provide services and therapy for children with developmental problems, and we also see children with physical disabilities and other motor disorders. We have a cerebral palsy clinic. I am very closely involved with our autism clinic, which combines psychiatry and developmental pediatrics.
What attracted you to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital?
One of the things that drew me to this position is the multidisciplinary approach. I’ve worked at places where lots of groups are assessing and treating kids with disabilities. But they tend to work in silos; there’s not much communication between groups, and people are often housed in different buildings.
But here, everyone is housed together in the same building. The emphasis is on collaborative work. Multidisciplinary team members assess patients, and we have team feedback. I see patients in our autism clinic. Our patients may also be seen by a speech/language pathologist, a psychologist, and an audiologist. We all see the patient in one morning session [for an assessment], and then we hold a meeting, and the family gets that feedback immediately on the same day. We also have physical therapists and occupational therapists on staff.
What else sets CDD apart?
The reach of CDD is far beyond what I’m used to as well. We are involved in prenatal counseling (if a woman discovers she is pregnant with a child with Down syndrome, for example) and then providing support and help to young children, school-aged children, adolescents, and adults with intellectual disabilities.
We have been designated by the federal Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities as a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities since 1975, and we are the only one in Iowa. One of the main purposes of this designation is to support individuals with developmental disabilities in the community. We work with different groups to provide grant support, and we are working with community groups to ensure some degree of independence for these individuals. We offer a whole lifespan approach that you really don’t see much of in other places.
Our other focus is on training the next generation of professionals in this field. We’ve received a Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) grant for the past 15 years. It provides funding to train all different types of providers in how to best meet the needs of this patient population. One aspect of the program involves having trainees visit families over a period of several months and do things together like go shopping. The trainees find out what it’s like to be a parent of a child with disabilities, and this experience allows them to be more empathetic since they see our patients and families in real life rather than just in the clinic setting.
What areas of research are you currently focused on?
I am currently working with mothers who had a substance abuse problem during pregnancy. The purpose is to help us better understand the mother-baby relationship and how drugs of abuse may affect a mother’s response to her baby. During the study, mothers may be given a nasal spray with the natural hormone oxytocin to determine if that affects how her brain functions when viewing pictures of her baby during a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). We will compare the responses of mothers who had an addiction problem during pregnancy with a group of mothers who did not.
Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP)
Community Child Health, FRACP
MBBS, University of Queensland, School of Medicine, Brisbane, Australia
PhD, University of Queensland, School of Medicine, Brisbane, Australia
Mater Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
Child Protection and Neurodevelopment, Mater Children's Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
Developmental Pediatrics, Texas Children's Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
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