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Day in the Life: Psy.D. student helps families access autism spectrum disorder assessment services

Stories | 04.03.24

Logo of Day in the Life seriesBy Yasmin Abdoulraman 
Vancouver Campus, Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology student 

A 2019 Canadian Health Survey on Children and Youth (CHSCY) found that 1 in 50 children in Canada, or 2%, between 1-17 years old were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Despite these high rates of diagnosis, the waitlist for families to receive a publicly funded ASD assessment is currently over 1.5 years. Unfortunate systemic challenges, such as this one, is among the many reasons why I have always wanted to help families get the diagnosis they need. A diagnosis which will enable them to access invaluable services.

Currently, I am in my second year of the Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program at Adler University on the Vancouver Campus. At this stage, students complete an assessment practicum where they receive hands-on training in how to conduct psychological assessments required to make diagnoses. This past September, I began my practicum at Reframe Psychology and Counselling Clinic, a private practice in Abbotsford, British Columbia. I will complete my work in early July.

At Reframe, we provide ASD assessments, along with psychoeducational and ADHD assessments. I’m privileged to be part of this organization and their team that assists families in bypassing the lengthy wait times typically associated with ASD assessments. Working with neurodiverse children and adolescents has always been a dream of mine, and I never expected to get this type of hands-on experience so early in my career.

So, what’s a day in the life of a doctoral student at a practicum site such as this one?

Typically, I arrive at the office between 8:30-9 a.m. — large cup of coffee in hand — and organize all of the materials I need to conduct whichever assessment(s) I am doing that day. This usually includes relevant test booklets, two sharpened and eraser-less pencils, and two iPads — one for me and one for the client. Not all sites have their assessments on iPads so that has made my life much easier.
A typical ASD assessment at this site consists of carrying out ASD-specific tests (i.e., using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition [ADOS-2] and the Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised [ADI-R]) as well as tests of cognitive/intellectual functioning, academic achievement, adaptive functioning, and social-emotional functioning. Note that B.C. regulations allow only registered psychologists to conduct the ASD-specific components of these assessments; thus, I am responsible for conducting the cognitive, achievement, and social-emotional tests. So, when the client and their caregiver arrive around 9 a.m., I begin either cognitive or achievement test batteries.

This practicum has been such a fulfilling experience. One of the most rewarding aspects has been being able to provide validation to clients and their families. Often, people who come for assessments want to know “what’s wrong” with them. Of course, there is nothing “wrong” with any of them, and we make that clear to each and every client. Instead, we see our role as elucidating where their struggles may lie and how their thoughts and behaviours could be influencing their day-to-day lives.

The most challenging, and yet most fascinating, aspect of this practicum experience is that every person comes to our office with a unique clinical presentation, which is made up of a different story and a different experience. There is no one-size-fits-all approach or solution. Being able to do this has taught me some of the invaluable skills needed to be a clinical psychologist: taking a detailed client history, devising the appropriate list of test batteries to conduct, analyzing the results within the framework of that client, and providing relevant treatment recommendations.

Ultimately, every doctoral student’s assessment practicum experience is their own, and at the end of the day, it is what you make of it. I feel immense amounts of gratitude that I have been placed at a site that so aligns with my long-term goals of specializing in ASD assessments. I hope every Adler doctoral student has the same fulfilling experience.

Yasmin is a second-year student in the Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program at Adler University. She is a Vancouver native and earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of British Columbia. She then went on to obtain a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Behaviour Analysis and her Master’s of Science in Applied Psychology from Trinity College Dublin. In terms of goals, professionally, she aspires to one day specialize in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) assessment and, personally, she looks forward to setting up a life here in Vancouver. In her spare time, she loves to hit the gym or a yoga class and spend time with her family. 

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