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Standing Up for Struggling Children

By Bonnie Snyder 

During her sophomore year at Franklin & Marshall College, Katelyn Paradis ’12 traveled to Peru to volunteer in a daycare center. There she met a nonverbal 2-and-a-half-year-old boy named David.

“He would just yell and groan and no one wanted to play with him,” Paradis said.

Paradis, a psychology major at F&M, was shocked by the way daycare staff treated David. “They would call him David con loco—Crazy David,” she said. “Hearing that broke my heart, because this child is just 2 years old and you can’t label him like that. Clearly, there is something going on inside of him that he’s trying to communicate, and he’s having difficulty doing so.”

The experience had a profound effect on her.

“That was when I realized that this is what I want to do with my life. Seeing David’s treatment sparked my interest in working with this childhood population that has disabilities or delayed learning,” she said.

When she returned to the U.S., Paradis continued her work. In the summer of 2011 she interned at a center for child development in Ridgewood, N.J., where she assisted children ages 3 to 6 with physical, speech and language therapies. The children had conditions ranging from Down syndrome to cerebral palsy. This sparked a second interest in Paradis: to work with chronically ill children.

  • Katelyn Paradis ’12
  • F&M's Katelyn Paradis ’12 has developed a research interest centered on the dynamic between fathers and their chronically ill or mentally impaired children. She will continue to study that dynamic as a graduate student this fall at Vanderbilt University. (Photo by Eric Forberger)

Paradis empathized with the children, who would grow frustrated while attempting to complete basic, developmental tasks. “It’s hard to watch because you see the little children who want to do everything, but they’re falling, or they can’t walk a straight line, or they’re having trouble throwing a beanbag into a dish, and they’re getting so frustrated that they’ll shut down,” Paradis said.

Krista Casler, associate professor of psychology at F&M and a research adviser to Paradis, said Paradis embodies one of F&M’s hallmarks: learning by doing.

“She has gone into the field and done internships and put this into practice. Her work has benefitted those kids and added to her own development,” Casler said. “She’s an example of taking what we learn in the classroom out into the field, then bringing what we learn in the field back into the classroom. It’s reciprocal. It’s the scientific method in action.”

During her many observations, Paradis became intrigued by the interplay between parents and child—particularly father and child.

“I noticed that when the dads were involved, their children seemed to make more significant progress than the kids who just had mom bringing them every time,” Paradis said. Ultimately, she developed a demographic questionnaire designed to elicit information about the father-child dynamic in families using therapy services. It delved into questions such as the amount of time the fathers spent with their child in daily activities such as cleaning, eating, bathing or transportation, and the amount of time they spent together in therapies, treatments or medical appointments.

Paradis has found little mention of the father’s role on therapy outcomes in her exploration of the existing research literature, so she plans to continue exploring the issue of parental involvement next year at Vanderbilt University, where she will pursue a master’s degree in special education.

“So much of the available information is based solely on the mother, so that’s why it’s important for me to be looking specifically at the father and to highlight how this is an important issue that hasn’t been looked at before,” she said.