Sun Mar 17 2019
Kalia Thor.

What does food have to do with disability? Kalia Thor wanted to know. She is a Fellow in ICI’s Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) Program, but she is also a second-year Master of Public Health nutrition student at the University of Minnesota, a Maternal and Child Health nutrition trainee, and a nutrition educator for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. “During undergrad [in nutritional science], I always wondered why nutrition choices were so limited for certain individuals with disabilities and why they tended to be so ‘picky’ at mealtime,” she says. Thor still wants to know, but her interests have become more specific. “I want to work with diverse populations and figure out the nutritional deficits and needs of people with neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. Being part of MNLEND, I hope to use my knowledge and skills from previous experiences and apply them to children with neurodevelopmental disorders and their nutritional intake.”

As an interdisciplinary leadership training program, MNLEND helped Thor broaden her perspective. “Being a MNLEND Fellow has really has allowed me to view things differently from disciplines outside of nutrition for individuals who may have neurodevelopmental disabilities. Looking through the lens of other disciplines allows me to glimpse what other professionals can see all the time — how they observe early signs of developmental delays, how they anticipate the effect that surroundings might have on the daily activity and thoughts of people with autism, and more. Being a Fellow and with the year continuing, I will learn more about individuals with neurodevelopmental and related disorders.” 

MNLEND believes that hands-on training helps build interdisciplinary leaders. Thor’s MNLEND project combines her new interdisciplinary overview with her background in nutrition. “As a LEND Fellow and WIC nutrition educator, I am fortunate enough to work on a project for both organizations. In this project, we want to identify issues that WIC staff have in addressing developmental delays with families. We also hope to partner with other programs and help families who identify possible developmental delays in their young children; oftentimes these delays can be overlooked. Offering support could be as simple as referring them to other programs in Minnesota, such as 'Help Me Grow' or ‘Learn the Signs. Act Early.’ MNLEND has shown me the importance of working with young children with neurodevelopmental disorders and now I want to advocate for them. I want to help families.”