Fresh out of the master’s program in Autism Studies, Devon White traveled halfway across the globe to help run a brand-new autism treatment center in Kuwait City.
She says her close relationships with faculty and abundant research opportunities prepared her for the challenge.
“I’m so lucky to have so many amazing mentors. In terms of my confidence and knowing my own competency, the research experiences were huge. And I would never have been able to make this move across the world if I weren’t a confident researcher and clinician.”
White’s confidence was at a low after she dropped out of her first college and moved back home to Andover. She got a job and started taking classes part-time at UMass Lowell, thinking she’d transfer to another school.
But she never left. She fell in love with the psychology program and then picked up a minor in disability studies. Assoc. Prof. Richard Serna encouraged her to apply for the Emerging Scholars program, which paid her to work alongside him, researching online training methods for paraprofessionals who work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
Next, she did research with Serna at a Head Start program in Lowell on learning among preschoolers with ASD; most were non-native English speakers, and many were immigrants. Both projects prepared her to work in another country–in this case, Kuwait, where she is training behavioral therapists.
“When you’re in this inner city environment or in a different country, there are so many cultural sensitivities you need to attend to,” she says. “It matters because you need to make relationships with parents and families, too, for this work to be meaningful.”
She also did research with Assoc. Profs. Ashleigh Hillier and Doreen Arcus and hopes to do research in Kuwait, where she is the programs director and lead Board Certified Behavior Analyst at Malak Special Needs Services. The Malak center, which offers behavioral, occupational and speech therapy, opened to a handful of children in late 2016 but will eventually serve up to 60 children at a time.
“I always thought that if I could find a way to travel and help people, that would be my dream,” she says. “The center is a dream place: If you could choose one facility to work with kids, this would be it.”