More than four years ago, Karrie Walters saw the need to make diagnostic services more accessible in Eugene. She decided to tackle the problem herself, launching a comprehensive diagnostic clinical service in 2019 to assess a range of learning, attention and developmental disabilities.
Walters directs the Full diagnostic assessment clinicone of the ranges of clinical services offered in the HEDCO Clinic at the OU College of Education. The center assesses attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. Services are offered to children 7 years and older, adolescents, students and adults.
Walters is responsible for overseeing the services offered at the center. She also teaches and supervises graduate students who gain experience working with clients and conducting assessments.
Doctoral students use a comprehensive diagnostic process based on strengths and taking into account ecological factors. This approach means the center looks at multiple elements of each client’s life, including school experience, mood, environment, and health, among others. Local clinics offering similar services generally do not review these factors as the assessment center does.
“It’s almost like we’re putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to create a more complete, strengths-based picture,” Walters said. “So we want to examine and put together as many puzzle pieces as possible.”
Culturally appropriate services are essential to Walters’ mission. This means that clinical practices reflect an understanding of how racial or cultural biases can affect how symptoms are described in different contexts. The center also examines ADHD, autism or any other specific learning disability through a neurodiversity lens.
“We highlight the individual in context and see the ‘dis’ in ‘disability’ as often a mismatch between the individual and the environment,” Walters said, “instead of something intrinsic to the customer only”.
The center now serves 80 clients in the Eugene area and contributes to the HEDCO Clinic’s overall mission of multidisciplinary teaching and integrated care. He regularly refers clients to other internal therapeutic services offered within the HEDCO Clinic, and vice versa.
In addition to serving the needs of the community, the clinic also works with other departments and units on the UO campus. Before the creation of the clinic, the Accessible Education Center had nowhere to send students to campus to get assessments for academic accommodations.
The quality of the diagnostic processes offered at the center is unique, but the training it offers also stands out.
Doctoral students in school psychology, counseling psychology, and clinical psychology work at the center and receive individual counseling from Walters as they learn to work independently with patients and practice diagnostic work.
“Training through the CDAC program feels like a great responsibility and privilege, as we often work with clients who are at a critical point in the process of understanding themselves and accessing services,” said Nathan Mather, one of the external students working at the clinic. “We work with clients for the entire assessment process, from clarifying the reason for requesting an assessment to providing feedback and recommendations for next steps.”
Maggie Cox and Lindsey Romero, two other day students at the center, said Walters’ guidance made a big difference in how they learned essential clinical skills.
“Dr. Walters provides scaffolded and monitored autonomy that creates an incredibly supportive and nurturing space that has allowed me to gain confidence in my skills as a clinician,” Cox said.
Developing this experience is essential for students to prepare for their future careers. Doctoral students must gain clinical experience in therapy and assessment in order to apply for internships after completing their doctoral program. The center is a popular place to have this experience. Walters often has to turn down applicants because she can only supervise a handful of students at a time.
“Historically, our students have really struggled to get assessment hours because there are fewer opportunities in the city or in the area to do so,” Walters said. “Thanks to the CDAC, they have been able to obtain more assessment hours, which means that they are more competitive for very good internships.
Walters said his main goal for the center program within the HEDCO clinic is to make it even more accessible for the community. The cost of comprehensive assessments in the community ranges from $1,500 to $3,000. But the clinic does not charge insurance and has a fixed cost of $750. This can still be a significant barrier for families, and Walters hopes the clinic may eventually receive funding to offer discounted or free services to Eugene clients.
Walters has many future plans for the clinic, including offering Spanish-language assessments and expanding the ability to assess autism spectrum disorders. These future dreams, however, depend on the continued success of the clinic.
With support from donors, including the HEDCO Foundation, the College of Education can support much of this programming, but welcomes the opportunity to expand access to all individuals and families in need of the resource.
“Instead of growing rapidly, I want the clinic to be more sustainable,” Walters said.
—By Madeline Ryan, College of Education