My experience at Athabasca University exceeded my expectations, and in many ways.
Prior to enrolling at Athabasca University, I graduated with Bachelor of Psychology degree from a local university. I decided to take courses at AU to increase my GPA for a graduate school program I was interested in.
I feel that the education I received here not only allows me to work alongside my chosen field but also allowed me to interact with the learning material in a way that encourages me apply textbook knowledge into the real world.
My classes at AU were mostly in Educational Psychology which is an interest of mine since I heard a psychologist speak on the radio when I was a kid. In elementary and middle school, every classroom teacher I had would write on my report card about how I am always keen on helping others.
When I became an adult, the career choices that appealed to me the most were the ones in helping professions. There is something about helping others that makes me feel that while I cannot change all injustices in the world, I can help those who are suffering or lacking supports to better their life.
The course that changed everything
Within the helping profession, I chose the area of Autism Spectrum Disorder. When I was 18 years old, I was touched by a family that struggled financially and had a child with autism. They were of Asian descent and this culture can have a lot of stigma around special needs. It is this family that made me later choose to study the field of autism.
So naturally, the course that stood out to me in AU’s course catalogue was the Autism Spectrum Disorder course EDPY478. My instructor for this course was Wanda Christensen. She was beyond simply an amazing instructor. She is one of the most impactful instructors that I have ever encountered in my post-secondary education. Her course was designed in a way that encouraged students to apply concepts learned in the textbook to encounters with people with autism.
There were three main assignments; one was to contribute meaningfully in the course discussion and another was developing an intervention plan. These assignments were one of my favourite parts of the course as they forced me to think outside the course material and apply knowledge to individuals living with autism and their challenges and barriers.
The course also encouraged each student to comment on other students’ responses. At times, I disagreed with other students and I suggested contrary research to add to the class discussion. Wanda was open and accepting of this as she also believes that in science, many times scientists do not agree with each other but appropriate discussion backed by evidence is how new research develops. For every research article, there may be more suggesting the contrary and I believe this can only add to the field.
Many instructors would not have agreed but Wanda was not one of these instructors and this greatly benefited me because I was able to generate meaningful discussion to reference real life matters but still engaging with the textbook material.
In addition to weekly discussions, each student had to complete two assignments. The final assignment was a reflection paper where students had to choose multiple topics or chapters from the textbook and interrelate concepts and apply them to existing knowledge.
This part of the class forces students to view the individual as a real person as if we were therapists trying to develop an intervention plan for this client. For the organization of textbooks, every topic or aspect of an individual is organized into chapters: for example, academics, social skills, daily living skills, and motor development. However, all these different aspects come together to form a full person. For example, a person may be excelling in the area of academics but they will not have the best quality of life unless they have necessary skills in other areas too.
So while these different components are separated into different chapters, one can imagine it’s challenging to master the skills necessary to develop a plan that considers all 13 chapters or aspects of a person’s functioning. I found this part very rewarding because in reality, even if you were a professional with expertise in daily living skills in particular area, such as an occupational therapist, you must have knowledge about how other parts of one’s life are applicable to their functioning.
My ability to interrelate these concepts allowed me to think of the bigger picture which was how to increase the quality of life for this person across these different areas. This part also reminded me about the importance of interdisciplinary teams for children with autism.
The course content of EDPY 478 was an excellent starter to obtaining a career. I currently work with individuals with autism. Much of my role is to support the family through this journey and help provide supports that would better one’s quality of life.
And I have AU to thank for it.
Wondy is someone who takes every opportunity presented with grace but feels uncomfortable with big changes. When she started at AU she was nervous and working hard to figure out the expectations of me as a student. In particular, Wanda Christensen was not only knowledgeable in the course content but approachable. Wondy wishes every instructor she had in my undergrad had the same philosophy that she has.