Works and Days

Child Psychology with Dr. Amy Summers: Jocelyn Hansson, Winter Shadow 2016

I decided to do the winter shadow program because while I’ve been certain that I’d be a psychology major for a long time, I have been struggling to figure out what specific area in psychology I want to pursue.  When I saw Amy Summer’s winter shadow program I knew I had to apply.  Amy Summers Phd., is an educational psychologist who administers psychological tests to children.  She administers IQ tests to children hoping to apply to highly capable school programs and tests to children suspected to have a learning disorder or attentional problems.  I already had an interest in learning disabilities and ADHD, but I was interested in exploring and learning more about the various different job opportunities within this field.  Over the course of my week shadowing Amy, my externship buddy Maddy and I learned about the responsibilities of an educational psychologist.  We were also introduced to others in the same field, and the different kinds of educational backgrounds they had.  We learned about learning disorders, ADHD, child IQ scores, and the tests that score them while also observing and even sometimes getting the opportunity to administer some of these tests. 

Perhaps the most exciting parts of my externship experience involved administering tests to the young children. Maddy and I were given the opportunity to prepare and administer tests to the two 4 year olds who were receiving IQ tests (these tests were non-essential, so we couldn’t mess up the results of the testing).  It was sort of crazy to see how IQ is tested in 4 year old children.  Some of the tests made sense to me, such as the test that looked at processing speed, but others were more unusual.  For example, a block design test had the children arrange colored blocks to match a simple pattern.  It was weird to hear that an ability to understand and reproduce diagonal lines is considered to be advanced spatial-visual ability in 4 year olds.  These were super sweet and intelligent kids, but it was a shock to see kids this young being exposed to a convoluted testing process with the goal of getting them into a high achieving school or kindergarten.  I was glad Amy was more than happy to talk about my conflicting feelings about the schools, and she ended up giving me a lot to think about.  We talked about things like the instability of young children’s IQ scores, the status element of having one’s children attend these schools, along with the effects of the different schooling children from high and low socioeconomic status receive.

During the week Amy also assessed an 8 year old who was being tested because of a suspected learning disorder. Maddy and I spent a day observing him in his school environment.   While we were there we were able to talk to people worked in jobs different than Amy’s that were in the same realm of interest.  I learned not only about jobs related to educational psychology, but also about some interesting methods geared to teach children with significant learning disabilities to read.  When this boy came into Amy’s office, we were able to both observe his testing, and administer some tests ourselves.  I came into this experience thinking I knew a lot about learning disorders and ADHD, but found that I actually knew very little about the tests for these disorders.  One of the most interesting things I learned about these tests was the fact that there are different spelling errors that indicate different kinds of problems.  Simply put, some spelling errors make phonological sense, and don't indicate much, while others might be indicative of difficulties understanding sounds and their corresponding letters. I think the most rewarding experience of my whole shadow program was looking critically at this boy’s performance on the tests.  It was cool to see Amy look at certain test results, come up with a hypothesis, and administer certain tests to look into her hypothesis.  We were treating this boy’s development and abilities sort of like a puzzle. I’m glad I was comfortable enough to put forward my own ideas and hypotheses about this boy. 

I ended this experience with a lot of practical knowledge about Amy’s professional field such as the details of her job, and jobs that revolve around educational psychology. Beyond that, I think I learned what Amy loves about her job. Educational psychology involves a lot satisfying critical thinking when one attempts to figure out a child and their mental abilities, but it also involves being able to truly improve a child’s educational experience. Amy and others like her are able to explain a child to others who may not understand the way they work, and start to implement a plan for that child catered to their needs.  Even if I don't go into a field exactly like Amy’s, I do think I’ll search for a job that is similarly satisfying; one that involves some sort of analysis and reasoning alongside clear and noticeable change and improvement in the lives of others.  

Tags: winter shadow, externship, psychology, testing, learning disorder, education, child psychology, diagnostics, clinical