Loyola clinic's holistic approach helps with learning disabilities

College center moving to create `1-stop shop'

April 20, 2003|By LISA WISEMAN | LISA WISEMAN,SUN STAFF

The call that came into Jeffery Baerwald's office from the parent of a child with undiagnosed learning disabilities was all too typical.

The child had been to four clinicians for testing - and received four different assessments of the disabilities and recommended treatments, said Baerwald, assistant psychology professor at Loyola College in Maryland and director of the Loyola Clinical Centers Multidisciplinary Assessment Center.

What the parent needed, Baerwald said, was a "one-stop shop," like Loyola's new Multidisciplinary Assessment Center, set to move in late July from Loyola's North Baltimore campus to expanded space at the newly renovated Belvedere Square, a little more than a mile away.

"Here, you can bring in your child and we can pull it all together. ... We offer a unique, integrated approach," said Baerwald, who also is a Jesuit priest. "The center provides extremely high levels of attention to individualized care."

The center is the result of a two-year pilot project that builds on the college's Margaret A. McManus Moag Speech and Hearing Center.

Since 1971, that center has offered outpatient clinical services for speech, language and learning disorders, administered by college staff and students.

The pilot program forged a partnership between the hearing center and the departments of psychology and education to provide more comprehensive clinical assessments, while giving undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students a chance to learn more about working in a multidisciplinary environment.

It often takes many clinicians, ranging from physical therapists and speech pathologists to neurologists and psychologists, to get to the root of a child's difficulties, Baerwald said.

The Loyola clinic, instead of just evaluating the child's disability, provides testing for the whole child, he said. Children, from elementary age to college, are given a series of cognitive, language, neuro-psychological and achievement tests over three days. Students, who work closely with their professors, administer the tests.

"The students are highly supervised," said Janet Simon-Schreck, a clinical faculty member at the McManus center. "They get input from faculty and also from parents."

When the tests are completed, staff members from all disciplines meet as a group to review the results and to come up with an assessment for the child.

The fees are set on a sliding scale, based on the client's ability to pay.

Baerwald believes that the collaboration among clinical professionals is key to helping children with disabilities succeed, particularly children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

"Right now, all they have is drugs and accommodation. ... What we want to do is put them through a program of rehabilitation to essentially teach them to think better," Baerwald said.

The staff members then meet with the child's parents to create an individualized treatment plan. They will consult with officials from the child's school, if necessary.

"It's a very holistic approach to treatment," Baerwald said, "and very Jesuit." Jesuit education is grounded in the belief of cura personalis, care for the whole person in mind, body and spirit.

The whole-person approach to clinical assessment is not unique to Loyola. More and more practicing clinicians are realizing that the best way to treat patients is through a collaborative approach, Baerwald said. "What makes us unique is that we are training students to work in this type of environment."

Each semester, about 30 students work in the center as part of a requirement of their coursework. Previously, only undergraduate and graduate speech pathology students worked with clients. Now, with the expanded clinical services, students in the college's doctoral program in psychology work in the center.

"Our students now have the added bonus of working with other disciplines from the very beginning," Simon-Schreck said. "In the real world, you don't practice in isolation. It's best to learn how to work with other clinicians from the beginning. This gives them a great opportunity to appreciate what others are doing."

For Andrew Blair, 25, Loyola seemed a good fit for him to complete his doctoral work in psychology.

"Being a Jesuit school, it clicks with my philosophy. I'm Quaker, and I want to work in a community service environment," Blair said.

He also wanted a more hands-on approach to learning, "I wasn't looking for a research-based program," he said.

Blair's work at the MAC has also given him the opportunity to work with children, something he did not get the chance to do at Earlham College in Indiana, where he completed a master's degree.

"I've learned a lot about how children learn and what sort of factors affect their learning," he said.

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