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Blindness becomes tool for Upper Prov psychologist

Categories: In the News

Delaware County Daily Times - When clinical psychologist Aleisa Myles listens to her clients, she is employing aAleisa well-honed skill that enabled her to succeed in grade school and high school in Prince George’s County, Md., and in undergraduate school near Cleveland, Ohio. “I couldn’t see what the teacher wrote on the board. I couldn’t read books unless it was in very bright light. I learned mostly by listening and memorizing,” said the 32-year-old Upper Providence resident. “I got by because I could do well on tests through memorization.” Myles was born with Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis, a rare type of blindness that prevents her from seeing anything at night and only some things in very bright light during the day. It has not prevented her, however, from earning her doctorate in clinical psychology from Widener University in Chester. “I had a lot of wonderful mentors along the way – advisors and teachers and professors,” said Myles. “I am grateful that I got this far.” She was introduced to one of her greatest learning tools, audio books produced by the non-profit organization, Learning Ally, through Widener’s student services when she entered graduate school in 2009. Through the organization’s online newsletter, Myles learned of the Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards for visually impaired individuals and submitted an essay as well as recommendations from two of her clinical psychology professors, Courtney Slater and Sanjay Nath, director of the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology at Widener. Last September Myles, who completed her doctorate in December, was notified by Learning Ally officials that she was one of six top national award winners. She received a $6,000 scholarship in January, but was just officially presented a National Achievement Award last month at Learning Ally’s headquarters in Denver, Colo. “My limitations have taught me to be persistent and flexible,” Myles said in a press release announcing her award. “I have a sense of awe and deep gratitude for the role that Learning Ally plays in my life, my studies, and my ability to serve others. Having tens of thousands of audio books accessible to me is an adventure playground for my mind.” Founded in 1948 as Recording for the Blind to help blinded World War II veterans attend school and re-enter society, Learning Ally offers 82,000 online publications recorded by volunteers for people with visual impairments and reading disabilities. It is supported by donations, grants, educational programs and annual membership fees. “For my neuropsychology texts there were even descriptions of diagrams of the brain,” noted Myles on Tuesday. She was only 14 when she realized she was fascinated with the brain and how it worked. “The first week of high school I was sitting in the cafeteria with friends. A teacher had given out a survey asking what you wanted to be when you grew up. My friend said she wanted to be a psychologist and a light bulb went off and I realized right then and there, that’s what I wanted to do,” said Myles. It hasn’t been an easy road. She listened well to her teachers and memorized what they said but some situations could not be addressed that way. Her college entrance examinations were an ordeal. “For the SATs, I brought a desk lamp with me and put my head right on top of the paper. My head got hot and I strained to read, but I couldn’t read all the passages,” remembered Myles. “I didn’t know then how to advocate for myself and people didn’t help, not because they didn’t want to, but because they didn’t know how.” Nevertheless, she earned her undergraduate psychology degree from the College of Wooster near Cleveland in 2005 then was an AmeriCorps volunteer, first working with the literacy council teaching high school graduate equivalency classes in the District of Columbia, then working as a teacher’s aide in inner city Cincinnati, Ohio, before entering Widener. Myles grew up feeling marginalized not only from her experiences as a disabled individual but from the fact that her parents are Pakistani. “I didn’t quite fit in,” she said. Myles is especially sensitive to “childism,” that is, discrimination against children who she says are often not taken seriously or counted as full human beings simply because they are small. It was the topic of her doctoral dissertation. “Childism is prejudice against children as experienced through being put down, hurt, abused and neglected. They often go unseen and overlooked,” said Myles. “The suffering and oppression children experience can be translated into personal and social struggles with the whole of society.” It has influenced her career objectives. “I would like to work with families with disabilities and survivors of childhood trauma,” she noted. Myles is currently doing her post-doctoral residency as a therapist at the Philadelphia School of Psychoanalysis where she interned for several years and where she hopes to be employed upon becoming a licensed psychologist in about a year. She looks forward to hopping the train to Philadelphia from the Media station not far from her home, then walking a few blocks to work. On her days off, Myles enjoys working with Transition Town Media, a grass-roots group that she noted is “focused on creating social and environmental resilience for the future.” “I moved to ‘Everybody’s Hometown’ and I feel like I’m here to stay,” she said with a smile.