Shana Nichols is clinical director of the Fay J. Lindner Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders on Long Island, New York. She has worked with people with Autism for many years in her role as a clinical psychologist and has recently written the book Girls Growing Up on the Autism Spectrum.
When and why did you first become interested in Autism Spectrum conditions?
When I started college, I knew I was interested in studying psychology and that I wanted to work with children somehow. I had been a swimming instructor, coach and camp counsellor throughout high school and had many children with behavioural or learning difficulties in my groups. Though I had heard of autism, it wasn’t until I was in college that I met the young boy who helped shape my career path. I responded to an ad posted in my department by a family who was looking for students to work with their preschooler with autism as part of his home-based ABA program. After my first session I knew that I wanted to focus on autism. Though I no longer work primarily with preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders, those early experiences working intensely with families in their homes before I started graduate school have always stayed with me.
What do you like best about your work?
Most definitely teaching! Whether I am teaching a client about positive self-talk, a parent about how to use visual supports at home, a peer about how to engage a group member in a conversation, or one of my students about how to conduct an assessment, it is incredibly rewarding to see progress and the sense of accomplishment that comes with it. I have really enjoyed developing the psychology training program at my Centre over the past few years, working with students who are still in graduate school and those who are completing their post-doctoral training. Our field needs more bright and talented professionals and it is an honour to have the opportunity to be part of their learning experience.
Who or What inspires you?
Passion, creativity, commitment, and the many wonderful children and parents that I have been so fortunate to work with over the years.
What are your hopes for the future?
My hope for the young men and women I work with who have Asperger Syndrome is that the doors to all of life’s incredible experiences will open for them. For that to happen, we need to continue to think as a society about support and encouragement, acceptance, and celebration of differences.
What is your favourite book or film?
My mother tells me I was born with a book in my hands, and I have always been an insatiable reader. Like many Canadian girls I grew up madly in love with Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, wanting to be Anne Shirley, the spunky red-haired orphan with the wild imagination: “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”
I have always loved stories about creative, strong, gutsy heroines such as Anne Shirley and Jo March from Little Women, and I try to bring that energy to my work with girls and young women with ASDs—embracing challenges, overcoming obstacles, and finding a “kindred spirit” along the way.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2008