Student clinicians bring faster and comprehensive help to children

By: Gerry Rucchin
March 7, 2018

Elizabeth Thornley, left, and Alexandra Cross are graduate students who worked together at the Child and Youth Development Clinic. The clinic provides psychological assessment, intervention, treatment and language services to children and youth from three to 18 years of age.

Elizabeth Thornley, left, and Alexandra Cross are graduate students who worked together at the Child and Youth Development Clinic. The clinic provides psychological assessment, intervention, treatment and language services to children and youth from three to 18 years of age.

Faster assessments and team work mean quicker intervention and treatment for children when they visit the Child and Youth Development Clinic. When you take a closer look, graduate students are the clinic’s backbone when it comes to providing these important services.

Elizabeth Thornley, a third-year PhD student in School and Applied Child Psychology at the Faculty of Education and Alexandra Cross, a third-year student in the combined Master of Clinical Science/PhD program in audiology/speech language pathology at the Faculty of Health Sciences, completed their practicum as a two-person team at the clinic.

The Child and Youth Development Clinic is unique among service providers because graduate students in speech language pathology and psychology work as an integrated team whereas in other organizations speech language pathologists and psychologists conduct separate tests and write separate reports, said Thornley.

What’s more, an interdisciplinary approach to assessing and treating children means the clinic is providing faster service for families than what a family would typically experience in the community. Thornley said children experiencing multiple issues can wait between six to eight months before treatment begins because children take academic, speech and psychological tests at different places. However, the clinic can conduct tests in as little as four sessions and the wait time is only a couple of weeks. 

“Early intervention is so important. It’s a nice way to support families,” said Thornley.

She added an interdisciplinary approach to assessment and treatment is important because children don’t live in isolation. They’re part of many ecosystems, such as family, community and school. Thornley said the clinic’s strength is it taps into the child’s ecosystems, which means the clinic provides a holistic approach to assessment and to providing services.

The clinic, which opened in October 2017, provides high-quality and affordable psychological assessment, intervention, treatment and language services to children and youth from three to 18 years of age. Graduate students in School and Applied Child Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Applied Behavior Analysis, and Speech and Language Pathology programs at Western can participate at the clinic.

Working with children and their families has been a rewarding experience for both students. Cross found satisfaction in providing recommendations to various stakeholders. She said in two cases they met the family and teachers at the school and provided solutions that supported the child in the classroom.

“We had positive feedback both from parents and from children,” said Cross.

For children and their families, it’s important the two-person teams working at the clinic are effective. Cross and Thornley were teamed up based on their personalities, their schedule and how they worked during their practice case study.

“We worked well together and we were paired for the next two assessments,” said Thornley.  Cross added, “it’s been a good match.”

While each team at the clinic determines their work processes, Cross and Thornley wanted to collaborate closely when they assessed children. As a result, they planned assessments together and when it was time to assess them, they were both in the room.

“It reduced the child’s anxiety during the assessment because when one of us conducted our assessment, the other one entertained the child,” said Thornley.

While an integrated team helps children and families, it also helps the graduate students who are conducting assessments and planning interventions or treatments. Both students said their experiences helped them as clinicians because they gained a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s academic discipline.

Although Cross has completed her practicum while Thornley will finish in April, both hope to return to the clinic in some capacity in the future. Cross describes her time at the clinic as an “incredible learning experience.” She added that she never thought she would get this type of interdisciplinary practice.

“You may get some interdisciplinary experience at hospitals but to be able to do it at Western has been really great.”