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UNCW Psychology Provides Hope to NC Pediatric Patients

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Written by Laura Rojas ’17; Photo by Jeff Janowski

In 2012, Dr. Melanie Bachmeyer opened the doors to the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) clinic run through UNCW’s Department of Psychology. Serving patients, the value of the clinic extends to its program which gives students research and clinical experiences while completing their undergraduate or graduate programs. In the normal population 5%-20% of children are diagnosed with feeding disorders. The prevalence of feeding disorders in children with disabilities ranges from 40% to 80%.

“The more training experiences we can provide, the more services can be offered to children. Early intervention is crucial to preventing severe behavior and intellectual issues,” explains Bachmeyer. “Delays in language, social, cognitive and academic development causes great stress to families so that’s what we address with applied behavior analysis.”

Treatment procedures are backed by decades of research which makes the treatment approaches very effective. Feeding disorders are caused by a biological component that cause the young patients to have restricted diets. The ABA clinic is trained to work with autistic children who face the added challenge of being selective with food. Because of the feeding tubes and hassle that patients grow up with, mealtime becomes problematic and their future with eating a good diet can leave long-term effects. Depending on the case, treatment plans include assisting with mealtime structure and compliance.

Bachmeyer was inspired through similar programs she worked for in Atlanta and Maryland. There’s a need in North Carolina for ABA treatments since talent is rare and hospital programs are limited. This psych training clinic provides students with pediatric training to assist families of children who seek treatment for feeding issues.

Part of what motivates Bachmeyer to do this line of work is that these children and families are often desperate for their children to receive treatment. They travel from North Carolina states like as far as Charlotte but treatment is pro bono. Referrals are sent from the New Hanover pediatric wing and hospitals further out like UNC and Duke. Funding come from the department and grants.

Once patients are on the road to recovery, seeing the impact the ABA clinic has done to the lives of the families makes all the hard work worth it. “The impacts our services have on their lives is what continues to drive me,” says Bachmeyer. With the installation of the Ph.D program, more psychology students will be able to work and research through the clinic.

Bachmeyer hopes that more programs like UNCW’s spring up in North Carolina to expand the scope of treatment for patients in need. However for now, being a unique program in the state makes her proud. “I have the opportunity to work with intelligent, dedicated and inquisitive undergraduate and graduate students getting trained in the clinic. They learn about the science and then they apply that and see firsthand how it can be used,” said Bachmeyer. “Having both clinical and research experience outside of the classroom creates an added value to student’s psychology degree.”

UNCW psychology students get to see the behavioral principles and procedures used through this positive way and many have decided to pursue applied behavior analysis as their specialty and continue their studies into future.