Psychotherapy and psychological assessments are essential services for families of children with developmental disabilities. Additionally, comprehensive psychological assessments are a vital first step towards connecting families of children with developmental disabilities to needed services and resources. However, this valued service is unfortunately a limited resource even within large metropolitan communities, such as Chicago. I am currently working as a psychology extern at an academic medical center where I perform specialized assessments for children who experience a wide range of social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties that are observed within their home and school environments. These comprehensive, multidisciplinary assessments are often time consuming (and costly). However, they provide families with invaluable information regarding their child’s current level of functioning, as well as diagnostic clarification to further inform recommendations, accommodations, and treatment.
It is unfortunate that these services are not immediately available to families given that diagnosis and recommendations are an essential first step towards providing children and families with appropriate treatment and accommodations. These children often exhibit a number of behavioral difficulties, which may negatively impact other areas including social, emotional, adaptive, and academic functioning. Thus, it seems that this lack of access to care may lead to more significant problems and poorer prognosis. Ultimately, the waitlists that I have seen at this site indicate a greater need for trained professionals who are able to conduct comprehensive psychological assessments or provide other specialized services. I am pleased to count myself among those that hope to lessen this burden and increase access to care for this community.
Given that my current training site is recognized as a well-established academic training center that offers a range of training opportunities for graduate students, we are able to provide assessments to families at no cost, which is remarkable. However, there continues to be a high demand for services and limited service providers, which contributes to lengthy waitlists. This is particularly disappointing and frustrating for many families who are forced to wait months to years for services after being told that it is imperative for their child to receive specialized evaluations and treatments. Though my opinions are based primarily on my individual observations and personal experiences, waitlists are a common barrier to receiving outpatient services and are prevalent among other disciplines including occupational, speech, and physical therapy. Many of the families I have worked with have expressed how challenging it has been to receive specific services in order to provide their child with the appropriate supports and treatments they need. Other families have reported a significant lack of service providers within their respective communities, forcing them to travel 2 to 3 hours on a weekly basis to receive specific services. Likewise, many of the recommendations that are often necessary to consider when working with children with developmental disabilities include referrals for occupational, behavioral, and speech therapy services. However, I am often tasked with informing families that these services may not be readily available and that they will have to be placed on a waitlist.