This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Shannon focuses on the "forgotten"

Developmental disabilities have become niche area for new social work faculty member

Published: March 24, 2005

Reporter Contributor

Back in graduate school, Patrick Shannon noticed something dramatic and disturbing about the developmentally disabled adults with whom he worked—particularly among those who had lived in institutions from birth: There was seemingly no biological basis for some of their limitations.

Developmental disabilities traditionally haven't received a great deal of emphasis in the field of social work. For Shannon, one of the newest members of UB's School of Social Work faculty, it's become the niche area that attracts his keenest interest and energy.


While developmental disabilities traditionally haven’t received a great deal of emphasis in the field of social work, new UB faculty member Patrick Shannon has focused his work and energy on a group of people who, he says, "typically get left out."

It is estimated that 12 percent of children experience some form of developmental delay related to cognitive, speech/language or fine/gross motor difficulties. Shockingly, however, only 1 percent is identified before their third birthday, Shannon says. He's dedicated a major part of his work and writing to promoting ways to improve those statistics through early intervention, working directly with physicians and community clinics.

"We focus on providing for our nation's neediest," he says of his profession. "This is a group of people who typically get left out—those who are forgotten."

Shannon became interested in working with children as he was finishing up his M.S.W. studies at UB in May 1993. At that time, service providers were just beginning to realize that by focusing on a child's family, home environment and support services in the first three years of life, real social change could be affected for developmentally disabled people and their families.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, where he obtained his doctorate in social work in 2000, Shannon's concentration was in social policy and early intervention for children who are at-risk for/or have a developmental disability. During his studies in Virginia, he became affiliated with the Virginia Institute for Developmental Disabilities, serving first as a projects assistant, research associate and then as director of research and evaluation.

From 1993-94, he worked on several research projects, including an investigation of dating violence among undergraduate students and a study looking at the impact of Alzheimer's disease on African-American families.

As an adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth College from 2001-04, Shannon participated in the Maternal and Child Health Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities training program.

From August 2002 to May 2004, he created and served as a program coordinator for the Children's Health and Disability Graduate Certificate Program while an assistant professor at the University of New Hampshire. He also served as director of research and evaluation for the Virginia Institute for Developmental Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth, evaluating nine federally funded projects serving individuals with developmental disabilities.

Shannon's work with disabilities also crosses over into child welfare, the child protection system, physical abuse, neglect and nutrition issues. While there are no solid estimates, he says, it is believed that between 30 and 80 percent of youngsters in the child-protection system have some form of developmental disability.

Shannon says he's excited to be back in Western New York and working to help affect social change in an environment that welcomes innovation. He's also ecstatic to be back at UB, where he received both his bachelor's degree in human services and his M.S.W.

"UB is being talked about nationally in the field of social work," he notes. "I couldn't wait to move back here."

Joining UB after a three-and-a-half-year stint as assistant professor in the School of Health and Human Services at the University of New Hampshire, Shannon comes from a long line of family members devoted to public services. Most of his family members are either teachers or social workers.

The youngest of eight children, he grew up on the Salmon River, 40 miles north of Syracuse in Pulaski. He enrolled at Fredonia State College, thinking he would earn a business degree, but in his junior year, a part-time job with People Inc. in Buffalo changed his life's direction.

"I was working a 24-hour shift in a group home for people whose primary diagnosis was mental retardation, and I loved the work," he says.

He started by providing direct-care services to 12 adults living in a People Inc.-supervised apartment program, assisting with instruction in daily living activities, financial planning for residents, and individual and group counseling.

Shannon wanted to come back to UB for a variety of reasons, including the university's strong focus on research and grantwriting. An assistant professor, he also enjoys being an ambassador for the university. Since his arrival on the faculty in August 2004, his outreach has included work with People Inc., Aspire and Hopevale.

"I enjoy taking classes to the community to provide hands-on learning experiences, as well as providing human service agencies with useful services and products," he says.

At UB, Shannon teaches graduate courses in research methods, program and practice evaluation—something students typically shy away from because to them, he says, "evaluation" has a negative connotation.

"They come in hating it and me," he says, laughing. He tries to show them that the course is really a way of moving the profession forward, staying on top of what's relevant and understanding their own practice better.

"By the end of the semester, they love it," he says. "They are doing relevant work, providing community service and learning a lot."

Shannon and his wife, Jane, live in Orchard Park and have two daughters: Meaghan, 8, and Joey, 3.