Clinic’s team relies on expertise

Sometimes it takes more than a village to raise a child. In the case of a boy or girl born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), it takes a team of specialists, including a physician, psychologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, special education expert and speech therapist.
At Pullman’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Diagnosis and Prevention Clinic, those last two roles are filled by WSU faculty members: Darcy Miller, a professor in teaching and learning, and Amy Meredith, an assistant professor in speech and hearing sciences. They are among local professionals who volunteer at the clinic, which is located at Pullman Regional Hospital.
FAS is caused by alcohol consumed during pregnancy. The spectrum of impairment ranges from relatively mild, such as attention deficit, to serious disabilities requiring lifelong support.
Darcy Miller and Amy Meredith talk with a client
Photo by Julie Titone, College of Education
“I’m the liaison with the education personnel,” says Miller. “I travel to schools, or talk to teachers and counselors on the phone. I help answer their questions about behavior management and help them write individual educationplans.”
Writing a guide
Miller earned three academic degrees in special education, including a doctorate, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has taught special needs students. Yet she didn’t know much about FAS until her friend Ruth Emerson, clinic coordinator, asked her to get involved in writing a grant for the clinic in 1997.
Now, Miller knows so much about the subject that she is writing a practical guide for dealing with FAS. Meredith’s involvement with the clinic began in 2007, when she agreed to fill in for Carla Jones, an assistant professor and speech therapist who is on leave from WSU.
FAS isn’t Meredith’s specialty — her expertise is in motor system disorders — but her doctorate is from the University of Washington, which has a strong FAS program that has resulted in a whole system of satellite clinics such as Pullman’s.
And when Meredith taught at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, her colleagues pulled her into an FAS project.“So now, I’m using the tools I helped other people research,” she says. “FAS is a fascinating topic.”
Fulfilling service
Like Miller, Meredith uses her clinic work to meet part of her faculty service and scholarship obligations. They join the other FAS team members one day each month. They spend several hours assessing one child and talking with his or her caregivers.
By the end of the session, they use an elaborate, four-factor assessment system to decide whether, and to what extent, the child is affected by FAS. The factors are growth rates (FAS children tend to be smaller); facial abnormalities, such as smaller eye openings; brain abnormalities, ranging from seizures to cognitive impairment; and the mother’s alcohol use during pregnancy.
It is Meredith’s job to assess auditory comprehension, verbal expression and problem solving. A problem that often surfaces during language testing of FAS clients is the inability to see things from another person’s perspective.
College of Education graduate students sometimes go to the clinic with Miller, who also has shared what she learns there with students in the special education teacher education courses.
The volunteer work helps her maintain her expertise, she says: “It keeps me fresh. Once a month I’m dealing with real kids, real parents and real schools.”