Autism liaison service provides ‘top-notch’ care

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> STARKVILLE, Miss.–Working at the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic has been one of the most rewarding aspects of doctoral students Hallie M. Smith and Molly M. Butts’ graduate experiences at Mississippi State.
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> Thanks to a partnership between the school psychology program and Disability Support Services unit of the university’s Student Support Services office, the two school psychology majors are completing their second semester as autism liaisons at the clinic located on Morrill Road at the Starkville campus.
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> “Working at the clinic has given me the chance to apply what I am learning in coursework to actual situations and is helping me build my clinical skills, clinical judgment and my exposure to a variety of diagnoses and disabilities that will prepare me for my future as a practitioner,” said Smith of Lutz, Florida. She holds a master’s degree in educational psychology with a concentration in psychometry from MSU.
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> “This assistantship has provided me with a unique opportunity to work with college students on the autism spectrum and further allows me to serve the Mississippi State community,” agreed Butts. She also is an MSU educational psychology/psychometry master’s graduate.
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> “College students on the autism spectrum are sometimes overlooked,” the Natchez native said. “I’m excited that Mississippi State is being proactive and providing this service, and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.”
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> Now in its second year under the direction of board certified behavior analyst Daniel L. Gadke, the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic has become a go-to resource for clients with autism spectrum disorders, intellectual or development disabilities, various genetic and chromosomal disorders, as well as speech and language delays and disruptive behavior disorders. Gadke also is a national certified school psychologist and licensed psychologist.
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> “We provide pediatric behavioral services to children aged 18 months to mid-twenties with autism and related disorders, and we also provide individual interventions for behavior problems or skill building,” Gadke said.
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> “We also have social skills groups and provide assessment services and a four-week long summer academic and behavior camp in July. On a weekly basis, we serve about 50 kids in the surrounding community. While many are from the county, we have families who travel upwards of 100 miles one way to see us each week.”
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> Julie Capella, assistant dean and student support services director, said there are more than 700 students with a disability on the Starkville campus. Three disability counselors provide a wide range of accommodations specific to each student’s disability, she added.
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> “The population of students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is growing, and they sometimes require additional support that may not be academic support, but rather support with developing organizational, social, independent living and other skills,” Capella explained.
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> Since starting the autism liaison partnership last spring, Disability Support Services and the Autism Clinic have been able to provide free, more specialized services to degree-seeking MSU students with an autism spectrum diagnosis who are registered through DSS.
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> “Hallie and Molly split their time between DSS and the Autism Clinic, and have been working with the students on organizational and social skills,” Capella said. “They have also provided training to campus on best practices in college success for students on the autism spectrum.”
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> Smith, who also serves as the clinic’s operations coordinator, said many clients face multiple challenges and experience skill deficits in more than one area.
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> “Each case is different, and each client presents their own unique set of behaviors, despite the fact that they may have the same diagnosis,” she said. “I have worked with clients who have challenging behaviors such as tantrums, aggression, noncompliance, feeding problems, as well as communication and language deficits, academic difficulties in reading and math, anxiety and social skills deficits.”
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> The autism liaisons also work with higher functioning clients who often require assistance with developing social, coping, independent living, time management and organizational skills, Smith said.
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> “The students that I work with who attend MSU typically present challenges like poor time management or difficulty communicating with their professors,” she explained. “For these young adults, the goal is similar–to give them the skills they need to advocate for themselves and manage situations that occur throughout their day in an appropriate way.”
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> While they encounter many of the same challenges, Butts said MSU students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder tend to experience greater difficulty than their peers.
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> “The neat thing about these students is that they are admitted to Mississippi State the same way every other student is admitted. The only difference is that they need a little extra support,” she said.
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> And that’s where she and Smith come in.
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> Upon arrival to the clinic, a brief interview is conducted during the first session in order to identify the client’s goals and areas where they feel they need help and support.
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> “We also administer a validated behavior screener, which lets us know what to be on lookout for and helps us ask targeted questions when checking in with the student,” Smith said.
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> No matter what challenges they face or whether they need to meet on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, clients can rest assured of one thing–Smith and Butts will be there every step of the way.
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> “Increasing the client’s ability to independently and confidently navigate their environment is the ultimate goal,” Smith said, adding that she especially enjoys witnessing behavior changes and an increase in client skills.
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> “Building relationships with my clients and their families is another aspect that I really value,” she added.
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> “The students we work with are awesome and have tons to offer our university,” agreed Butts. “Having the opportunity to get to know them and give them skills and tools they need to succeed has been an amazing experience.”
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> Offering advice to fellow students, Smith emphasized, “If you are a student who is considering going into the field of school psychology or looking to work with individuals with disabilities, I would highly recommend getting involved at the clinic.”
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> “Working with Dr. Gadke and the other school psychology faculty has made my graduate experience more than I could have hoped for,” Butts agreed. “Each day, I am learning something new and receiving top-notch training from the best.
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> “Dr. Gadke is teaching us that when you love what you do and work hard, you can make a big difference in people’s lives.”
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> Learn more about Autism Liaison Services at MSU by calling 662-325-3335 or visiting sss.msstate.edu/autism.
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> For more information about MSU’s School Psychology Services Center and its Autism and Development Disabilities Clinic, call 662-325-2568 or email schoolpsychservices@colled.msstate.edu.
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> MSU, the state’s flagship research institution, is online at www.msstate.edu, meridian.msstate.edu, facebook.com/msstate, instagram.com/msstate, pinterest.com/msstate and twitter.com/msstate, using hashtag #WeRingTrue.
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