Community experience proves educational for psychology students

People respond to incentives, but sometimes the trick is finding the right incentives, says fourth-year psychology student Ashley Cooper.

She worked with a four-year-old boy with autism, trying to get him to pierce a lump of play dough with a fork as a prelude to mastering table manners. His skills improved as she offered inducements like small toys, but he jumped to perfect mastery when offered a chance to play with an iPad as a reward.

“I had waited three weeks before trying the iPad and I was like: Really? All he wanted was the iPad?” says Cooper.

She was one of 10 students presenting the results of their practicum placements Thursday as the final assignment in their course in developmental psychology. The students contributed almost 1200 volunteer hours in total, working with children, teens and adults with special needs in schools, pre-schools and community agencies.

Cooper says the class was the most interesting experience of her university career.

“I learned way more doing this than having a basic multiple-choice test,” she says. “It helped me to get a real understanding of the concept of behaviour plans.”

Her classmate Alyssa Palazzolo agrees. She says her time with a grade 3 student coping with academic delays will prove useful to her this fall, as she begins studies in the Faculty of Education.

“It’s important to recognize that every child will have a different learning style,” she says.

The course instructor, professor Marcia Gragg, says the students make a huge impact on the clients and community agencies they work with.

“I always hear back from the on-site supervisors how much they appreciate the student contributions,” she says. “As helpful as this course is for the students to get practical experience, it has just as much value to these children and their families.”

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