Deija McLean knew since she was in high school that she wanted to work with children with disabilities. Growing up, she volunteered at a school for children with disabilities and genuinely enjoyed spending time and working with children with special needs. After earning her bachelor’s degree in school psychology from Ohio State University, McLean gained her first experience in working with children with autism when she began studying for a doctoral degree at the University of Arizona. There she met a family that would not only change the direction of her career, but her life as well.
“Working as a behavior technician, one of my first clients was a four-year-old boy with autism,” McLean said. “Learning to work with him, watching him grow and advance, and watching his family grow with him was an experience that I’ll never forget. It really showed me that autism was an area where I wanted to dedicate myself; to learn more so I can help more people like my first client.”
Despite moving to the Thompson Center to continue her studies and to pursue her doctorate in school psychology from the University of Missouri College of Education, McLean still keeps track of her first client family.
“I still keep in touch with his family and look at pictures of him growing up that his mother sends me,” McLean said. “He’s seven years old now and it’s amazing to see his growth and advancement, and his family’s perseverance throughout their challenges.”
McLean’s first client continues to inspire and drive her as she takes full advantage of her opportunities for education and training at Mizzou and the Thompson Center. McLean has a passion for both diagnosing children who have autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, as well as treating them with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.
At the Thompson Center, McLean just completed a year-long clinical placement as a graduate clinician on the psychology team, diagnosing children with autism under the supervision of Dr. Kerri Nowell. Currently, she is working in the Thompson Center ABIS clinic, providing ABA behavior analysis for clients with autism. All while taking classes, writing her doctoral dissertation and interning in Columbia Public Schools.
“I really want to receive the full scope of the Thompson Center experience to best prepare me for a career in working with autism,” McLean said. “From the moment families first receive an autism diagnosis through creating a treatment plan and helping prepare children behaviorally and socially, I find the whole process rewarding and I want to help families by being a part of it from start to finish.”
It’s this amazing drive to learn and help families that allowed McLean to become the first recipient of the Davis Family Scholarship at the Thompson Center. The Davis Family Scholarship provides annual support to a student at Mizzou who is currently training at the Thompson Center and pursuing a degree in an autism-related field. The selection process and criteria for awarding the scholarship is based on the recipient’s potential career impact on individuals and families with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the area(s) of advocacy; diagnosis and identification; research; and/or treatment and intervention. Criteria that McLean surpasses at every turn.
“I am thankful for the Davises and their amazing support, as well as for the Thompson Center and the opportunities it provides,” McLean said. “Coming to Mizzou and working at the Thompson Center, I know that I am receiving the highest quality education and best possible preparation possible to begin my career. Our patients and all families deserve the highest quality care and I am appreciative of the opportunities to train to a level where I can provide that care in the future.”
A future which is sure to see Deija McLean helping thousands of patients and families navigate the challenging world of autism.