Practicum: A school or college course, especially one in a specialized field of study that is designed to give students supervised practical application of previously studied theory

My time as a practicum student is coming to an end. And I really don’t want it to. It is hard to believe that six months ago, I was walking into this clinic, head full of academic jargon and readings, completely new to this experience.

This was my first year in graduate school, and the concept of “practicum” was lost on me. What is a practicum? Is it a job? Is it an internship? Is it a class? As I would find out, it’s a little bit of each of those things. My job was to witness first-hand the particular role that my practicum instructor plays at Seattle Children’s Autism Center. My job was to listen, observe, be present, and be changed. My job was to learn.

What role does social work play in an outpatient autism clinic?

It is sometimes a running joke in this field, that “social workers wear many hats”. Truer words have not been spoken. It’s also true that the role of social work in the field of autism is an evolving one, as the prevalence of autism continues to increase and so too the need of families for education, resources, and support.

A typical day, if there is such a thing, was a mix of clinical and administrative work, including participating in the evaluation process, particularly in feedback appointments where providers share with parents the results of their child’s assessment. Receiving a diagnosis of autism is an emotional experience and parents need all the support they can get at this time. There is so much to learn about autism. I participated in a series of classes for parents new to autism and witnessed the many questions and concerns they had about how to best help their child. I also attended support groups, complete with tears and laughs, as I listened to parents share with one another their personal struggles and triumphs. I assisted with child care and observed the broadness of the spectrum and how autism presents uniquely in each child.

As part of a large multidisciplinary team of providers, I attended weekly rounds with doctors, psychologists, nurses, and other specialists to collaborate on cases, discuss new research, and partner with community providers regarding services for families. I learned that the demand for services and supports outnumber the supply and that insurance doesn’t cover much of the treatments suggested to parents for their child.
In an effort to better understand what parents need and find helpful, I sat in on meetings with the psychiatry parent advisory board, listening to both ideas presented by staff to parents for feedback as well as hearing parents suggest new ideas for improving services. I reviewed blogs on various topics for my own learning but also provided suggestions, from an objective perspective for readability and general interest. My project during my practicum focused on parent’s perceptions of their experience in the diagnostic evaluation process, particularly the point when they learn the results and if their child “is on the spectrum”. I developed a tool that will allow parents to provide feedback about their feedback appointment in an effort to make sure families are getting what they need as they receive a diagnosis.

Kudos to my Practicum Instructor

Always from a framework of empowerment, Lynn understands life through the eyes of a provider, an advocate, and perhaps most of all, from being a parent of a child with autism. My immense thanks go out to Lynn, who took me under her wing, and led by example how she expertly balances these many roles.

A footnote from the Practicum Instructor

While her learning was the main objective, Smita didn’t leave here without also making a contribution to our center. Her intelligent curiosity, concern for bettering the lives of families, and natural helping skills added to our work here and we are most grateful for her time with us.

Guest Writer: Smita Pednekar, Grad Student UW School of Social Work