Lessons in Chemistry, and Advocacy
As a graduate chemistry student, Adam Langenfeld (MNLEND 2019-20) worked on a research project in spinal muscular atrophy that sparked his interest in studying developmental and genetic differences.
Later, as a medical student and then a pediatric resident, he focused on newborn patients placed in hospital intensive care units due to premature birth or who were at risk for genetic or developmental differences. His own experience as a parent of a baby born prematurely helped solidify his interest in working with children with neurodevelopmental differences, which led him to a University of Minnesota Medical School fellowship in developmental-behavioral pediatrics.
“His life as a father, I think, is where his humbly powerful approach to child advocacy comes from,” said Andrew Barnes, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Barnes also serves as medical director for the Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) program. “As a MNLEND fellow, he integrated being a fantastic dad with his roles as a great physician and scholar, and contributed to successful partnerships MNLEND maintains with community organizations.”
Now a developmental pediatrician at Children’s Minnesota, Langenfeld has stayed in the community to practice and has been active in advocacy work through the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“I’ve connected with my local elected representatives on different topics, primarily focused on early childhood,” he said. “It was a great experience, and fortunately the last session was very productive.”
A statewide family and medical leave program, childcare support, continuous Medicaid coverage for young children, and mental health supports were among the wins.
“These measures really bolster access to a lot of critical services for young children,” he said.
The work was an extension of his MNLEND experience, during which Langenfeld and others in his cohort attended and spoke at advocacy day events in Washington, D.C.
“That was a key experience for me, and something I’ve tried to continue in different ways,” he said.
Another aspect of the MNLEND experience that continues to resonate is the exposure to colleagues with non-medical perspectives on neurodevelopmental differences, Langenfeld said.
“It was such a great opportunity to learn in a collaborative way to work with people from different backgrounds, both different training backgrounds and different personal backgrounds,” he said. “Being on a team with different ideas on how to approach working with families and their loved ones was really a formative experience, and one I’ve taken with me as I’ve gone forward.”
He worked with disability community leaders and MNLEND colleagues on a project to evaluate culturally-responsive stress reduction techniques for families of children with autism, said Rebecca Dosch Brown, director of interdisciplinary education at the Institute on Community Integration.
“We’re thrilled that Adam continues to center the wellness of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families in his role as a developmental behavioral pediatrician,” Dosch Brown said.
He's used all of these experiences to better listen to families.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the medical perspective of making a diagnosis and coming up with a treatment plan, but for a lot of parents, particularly in the autism community, there is a level of mistrust and questioning,” he said. “Being involved in the LEND program helped me develop the perspective of incorporating the different experiences that each family has. It has made me more comfortable with deviating from that plan, and instead to start with, ‘First and foremost, what is important to you?’ In my residency program, we had a sort of catchphrase of ‘What Matters Most,’ the idea of trying to establish the family priorities before we do anything. It helps to agree on the goal and establish an understanding that I’m going to do my best to work as a team.”