Auburn Family

Child Life: A Spotlight on an Important Study at Auburn University

Auburn University is one of only three Alabama universities to offer an undergraduate degree in the unique study of Child Life. Senior Courtney Lee has spent her four years in the College of Human Sciences studying human development and family studies with a child life concentration.

Lee was always certain that she wanted to work with kids, but she was not sure of which outlet would best fit her. As a nanny, she cared for one of the first children in the world to be diagnosed with Ubiquitin disorder, a disease which causes a decrease in muscle function, an effect of the body's inability to flush out dead cells.

“After being able to serve that little boy and his family, that made me so sure of working with kids in that type of way,” Lee said.

From that point forward, Lee became interested in the medical side of helping kids and a career in child life would enable Lee to care for other children in a similar way.

The Child Life Council describes a child life specialist as a trained professional with expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events.“After finding out later what child life was I remembered this episode on Discovery Health channel of these conjoined twins who were scheduled to have surgery to become two separate people,” Lee said, “the child life specialist worked with them daily for about a week before the surgery and I always remembered being so inspired and intrigued with her job.”

Through classwork and experiential learning, Lee feels she has absorbed the child development knowledge necessary to help children developmentally, cognitively, and physically.

“Classes toward human development and family studies in general are about human interactions and patterns,” Lee said, “child life classes breakdown the different aspects of child life and the history and reason or benefits of and for child life.”

Lee gained hands-on experience through her practicum at a children’s program with two child life specialists on staff. She described her role as being confusing at times because of a lack of direction, but she recognized this as a positive because she was forced to ask more questions and absorb the information on her own. Lee enjoyed valuable opportunities to become familiar with work in a hospital setting, shadow procedures, and assist patients' families.

“After being able to overcome some of the little challenges and as I gained more responsibility I really started to love what I was doing as a practicum student,” Lee said, “being able to work with kiddos in that environment taught me so much more than I could have imagined.”

The CLC states that although child life has its traditional foundations in hospitals, an increasing number of child life specialists are applying their expertise to help children in other environments, including outpatient healthcare facilities, doctors’ offices, hospice care, specialized camps, schools, court systems, and funeral homes.

As for Lee’s plans for the future in this growing field, she is considering graduate school for child life or play therapy, a form of counseling that refers to a large number of treatment methods, all applying the therapeutic benefits of play, especially for children.

“I'm not really sure what the future holds but either hospital or some type of setting where kids are physically or cognitively fragile is where my passion is,” Lee said.

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