TRIAD partners with Tennessee Department of Education to expand services for families of young children with ASD

Photo of woman playing with young boy.

The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) has awarded three training and technical assistance grants totaling $3.25 million to Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD). The funding will enhance statewide services for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other intellectual and developmental disabilities from birth to kindergarten.

The support allows TRIAD to strengthen its Early Learning Program, which includes diagnostic and early intervention services for children under 36 months of age through the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS). It also provides professional development opportunities for TDOE preschool educators statewide.

Through two grants—a 3-year grant contract focused on extending existing services in Middle Tennessee, and a 1-year pilot contract focused on developing new services in West Tennessee—TRIAD early intervention programming begins within weeks of an autism evaluation.

Ongoing supported mentorship and coaching are available to providers from local Early Intervention Resource Agencies across these regions. TRIAD will expand its deployment of rapid remote diagnostic evaluations, which will provide greater access to services for families in rural and low-resource areas.

“We aim to provide high-quality, evidence-based services and training for families and professionals in the topics and skills of greatest need,” said Alacia Stainbrook, Ph.D., BCBA-D, who directs these TRIAD programs. “To accomplish this, we’re working with our partners at the state level to increase access to all who need it. We very much believe that geography shouldn’t limit anyone’s ability to receive good services.”

In addition, a 5-year grant contract continues a longtime TRIAD partnership with TDOE to provide professional development and training opportunities for preschool educators across Tennessee. A major focus is developing model preschool classrooms in various regions of the state.

The TRIAD model classrooms serve as regional training sites and best-practice demonstration sites for preschool educators. Current examples of TRIAD model classrooms are in Medina and Cookeville. A model classroom will be developed within the Franklin Special School District during the 2016-17 academic year.

“The Tennessee Department of Education and TRIAD have a longstanding partnership in serving young children with disabilities,” said Lisa Wiltshire, executive director of the TDOE Office of Early Learning. “Reaching a greater number of young children and their families and educators across all of Tennessee is vital. We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with TRIAD to further incorporate innovative approaches to care and education. TRIAD’s Early Learning Program provides enriched opportunities for services and training in our state.”

TRIAD received a large 5-year grant contract, which began July 1, 2015, to provide professional development services and behavioral supports to K-12 educators across Tennessee. TRIAD’s Director, Pablo Juárez, M.Ed., BCBA, sees the opportunity to more fully tie these various services together in a way that fosters active family and professional engagement.

“We’re working with our partners at the Tennessee Department of Education to develop supportive systems of care and education that use each pivotal point of service as opportunities to empower families and professionals to access the services they need, when they need them, and where they need them,” Juárez said. “By doing this we can strengthen family engagement and professional engagement within systems, which can build and bolster collaborative relationships well into school-age years.”

TRIAD Early Learning Program

As a model program, TRIAD currently provides early intervention services to support 90 families of young children in Middle Tennessee per year immediately following their participation in diagnostic evaluations at the Center for Child Development, a clinic within the Division of Developmental Medicine, Department of Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.

Subsequent services focus on helping these families understand the results of the evaluation and identify next steps. In addition, TRIAD consultants work closely with families to identify routines and skill areas that are of most concern to the caregivers and implement appropriate evidence-based strategies to address these concerns. Services include a combination of home- and clinic-based caregiver training as well as collaboration with other service providers.

To be eligible for services, families must be referred for an evaluation by their TEIS Service Coordinator. Caregivers and professionals report that having this support during the critical and often challenging time following an evaluation has been of significant benefit to both the caregiver’s confidence in addressing the needs of the child and that child’s development.

Over the past year, TRIAD has developed a telemedicine model of intervention service delivery, making it possible to reach families of children with ASD or related developmental delays/disabilities in more rural areas of Middle Tennessee. This typically eliminates the need for families to travel to Nashville for services and optimizes the availability of the TRIAD team to focus on supportive service delivery.

In Middle Tennessee, a partnership with the Bedford County Community Center has supported our ability to reach families in Bedford and surrounding counties, and has been effective and well received. In July 2016, TRIAD will expand Middle Tennessee services through a new partnership with the King’s Daughters’ School in Columbia. This partnership will help support families in Maury and surrounding counties.

Also in July 2016, TRIAD will extend early intervention services to West Tennessee through a partnership with the Ayers Children’s Hospital in Jackson. This extension will allow TRIAD to serve 30 families in West Tennessee throughout the year. Children enrolled in TEIS and presenting concerns related to ASD will have the opportunity to participate in a telemedicine-based diagnostic evaluation and follow-up caregiver training and early intervention services similar to those available to families in Middle Tennessee.

This service model is designed with the ultimate intent of serving families while but also involving Early Intervention providers to enhance the quality of services provided to all children.

TRIAD is dedicated to improving assessment and treatment services for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families while advancing knowledge and training. For more information about TRIAD, visit or call (615) 322-7565.

Pictured top of page: photo by Kent Creative.

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