Q&A: Jamie Emery – Autism instructor leads with her heart

By Jesse O. Walls
Managing Editor
Jamie Emery-001

When did you decide you wanted to become a college instructor?
About the time I took this position. I don’t think I ever realized that this would be the track that I would take, but when I was living in Springfield, Mo. I had the opportunity to do some continuing education (workshops and presentations for families and other professionals) and realized that I really liked instructing. So, at that point, I decided that [instructing] might be a possibility for me.

When you first started your college education, was this career what you had in mind, or did your ambitions change along the way?
No, this was not the career that I had in mind. I didn’t even think that I would be working with the autism population whatsoever.

Why did you pick your particular field of study?
I went into clinical psychology because I knew that I wanted to work with people and I thought that I wanted to provide individual and family therapy. After I accepted my first position I had the opportunity to work with children that fell in the autism spectrum and recognize that I really enjoyed it, and then furthered my education and experience in that area.

What strategies did you use to get to where you are now?
Delayed gratification. Work hard for big rewards later. I was one of those students on the first day of college that sat down and mapped out my education. I did my bachelors program in three years, so I just knew exactly what I wanted and where I was going and just checked one thing off at a time to eventually get to the end goal.

Who were some of the people who helped you along the way?
I had really good college instructors. I had a college instructor my very first psychology course named Dr. Mathapo, and I just really enjoyed his courses. He really ignited more of a passion for the field and then I had the opportunity to be his work study and do research under him. From there my master’s program, I had really good instructors and professors, and then in my positions, every position that I’ve had I’ve really enjoyed my immediate supervisor, because they’ve all had a big passion for what they did.

Crowder offers certificates for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and Autism Assistance, is there anything you feel students should know before pursuing these certificates, or a career in these fields?
I think that students should recognize the fact that when taking these courses, they are specialized, and therefore I have a lot of expectations from my students. Not meaning that the classes are difficult to complete, but I feel a personal professional responsibility to make sure that they have a really good foundation of the knowledge that is expected of them before they enter the workforce and begin utilizing the techniques and methodology that’s taught.

Recent statistics show that 1 in 88 children are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD); how important do you feel your role is as an instructor educating people about this condition?
Well, one of the reasons why I’m so excited about this position and why I was so excited about obtaining this position was the fact that the numbers are increasing, or at least more people are realizing that more people are falling on this spectrum. And what’s great about this program, and the opportunities students have here, is that it just makes sure or allows us to train more people to serve the people who need it. So the autism assistance certificate and the ABA certificate will help meet the educational and social needs of those students who are now falling on the spectrum.

Do you feel there is more that could be done to help people become aware of autism and what exactly it is?
I don’t know. I think recently we have had a lot of light that has been shined on the topic.  I think we’ve even had some characters on television doing a really good job of depicting what it is to live with autism and what life would be. I think that if I would recommend anything, it would be more information to people who are in the services, as far as like bus drivers and people who are working in the cafeteria…people who have a lot of interactions with a vast amount of people everyday.

With 1 in 88 children being affected by ASD, it seems there is a high demand for people with this particular training; how important do you feel this training is?
It’s crucial. I think this training can make a huge difference in what a child can achieve, either academically, socially or in life skills.  I think that ABA has been one of the most researched based interventions available to parents, children and families.

Some Autism Rights Advocates believe that ABA therapy is ineffective; what are your thoughts on its effectiveness?
I think if you did the research and looked at the statistics and the evaluation as a whole, I think the analysis would be the most researched based intervention. The interventions that are recommended or utilized are only those that have been found effective. If it’s not been effective and shown through data and research there has been an effectiveness of intervention, then it’s not implemented. Therefore, I would argue with those who disagree.

Do you work outside of the college with people who have autism?
Yes. I guess currently right now I am acting as a consultant for Neosho public schools. I do a lot of consultation and evaluation for their students.

Do you enjoy working with people with autism, and, if so, what’s your favorite part about it?
Yes, I do love working with people who fall in the autism spectrum. My favorite part…I think what I really like the most is the fact that any applied behavioral analysis you break up, break big goals down into small steps, you teach those steps in a sequential manner that you’re able to achieve success on all levels, and I love seeing people find success, and to celebrate their successes with them.

What choices do you make in your personal life to keep yourself on track in your professional life?
Time management. I’m big on when I’m at work, I work, and when I’m at home, I’m at home.

What inspires and/or motivates you?
I think that my greatest inspiration is the fact that I know that with the right training and the right services that are provided in other settings (that is public school systems and human resources) that children could advance quicker and faster and go a lot further in their academic if more training was available.

Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of being a college instructor?
Oh, sure. I love sports, not watching but playing. I love going to the lake, I love anything that involves spending time with my children. We do a lot fun stuff at the park and bounce houses, or arts and crafts things. Besides instructing, I guess my biggest hobby would be being a mom.

How would you describe yourself in ten words or less?
A motivated person that leads with my heart.

How do you feel about being an instructor at Crowder?
I love it. I hope to be here for a very long time. I like the opportunity, and I feel like I have a really good balance right now. Being able to teach principles and theories that I believe in and I have access to still working with children. And through my clinical classes I’m able to supervise students and see their excitement as they recognize these principals working with children.

And just for fun, do you believe that the possibility of a zombie apocalypse is something college students should worry about anytime soon?
No. I don’t, and honestly I watched one episode of Walking Dead recently and I recognized the whole thought and idea that zombies can not turn doorknobs, which is ridiculous. I mean, they can do all these other higher executive functioning things, but in the show they couldn’t turn doorknobs and that bothered me. So, I’m not a zombie person.