May 11, 2017 at 11:01 am

Alum Enjoys Role as Mental Health Specialist Working with Children

smiling Rachel Neal in cap and gown with honor cord and honor sash standing in front of light string that is shaped on the wall behind her to spell Ohio

As a student at Ohio University, Rachel Neal ’16 was a Psychology and Sociology-Criminology double major.

Upon graduation last April, she accepted a job at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as a Mental Health Specialist and has been working there full-time since the end of last May.

At the College Hill Campus, there are inpatient, residential, and outpatient services. There are a variety of inpatient units that can service a wide range of children, such as young children, latency, and adolescents. Some units specialize in certain mental illnesses such as eating disorders or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Neal works on P3SouthWest which is the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (Autism) Inpatient Unit. Her unit services the largest variety of ages, ranging from ages 5-22.

She helps develop and implement behavior plans for children with these disabilities who have severe behavioral issues such as aggression towards others or self-injury. This is all done to teach the children other ways to manage not getting their way or communicating their needs.

“This job is the most rewarding thing I have done so far in my life,” Neal says.

She works with children all across the Autism Spectrum, some high functioning and some low functioning. It has taught her that even though a person might not be able to verbally communicate there are other ways to communicate and build relationships.

“I love when a non-verbal child I have built a rapport with is excited to see me and work with me again,” she continues.

The biggest challenge is not getting discouraged when a child returns to the unit. She says that sometimes it feels as though all the hard work during previous admissions has been erased.

It took her a long time to understand that the goal was not to make aggressive or self-injurious behaviors stop completely. Instead, the goal is to manage the behaviors and make undesired episodes less severe and frequent.

“Going into work every day is a new adventure, I never know what children will still be there or what to expect,” Neal says. ” The people I work with have taught me so much. I continue to learn every day.”

“I truly do feel as if I am doing something worthwhile.”

Neal reflects on her time at OHIO:

“My four years at Ohio University taught me more than I realized while I was a student. My professors and instructors made my classes interesting and engaging. Not all assignments were burdens, I wanted to learn as much as I could. If it wasn’t for them I would never have realized this is the field I want to work in. Aside from academics, Athens being a rural and impoverished community made me appreciate what I have. I gained the ability to emphasize with those less fortunate than me by volunteering in the Athens community with adults and children throughout my four years. Athens will always be hOUme.”

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