For some people, there is a clear and direct course that leads to their occupation. For others, there’s no clear path. For Dr. Mieke Goossens, (pronounced Mee-ka Go-zens), the school psychologist at Y.A.L.E.’s Medford and Mansfield Township campuses, situations and options unfolded in unexpected ways to bring her to work with students with Asperger’s.
As a girl, Goossens traveled extensively and experienced an unconventional international education. Once in the U.S., as a high school student, her father and others encouraged her to pursue a medical career.
“The only two certainties I had at the time were that I wanted to be in a helping profession and wanted to work with children,” recalled Goossens. She began her college experience at Barnard University in New York as a pre-med student, with the expectation that she would become a pediatrician.
While at Barnard, Dr. Goossens took her first psychology course with a professor who she said changed her life. Simultaneously, she began working summers at a small, innovative private school in Connecticut for children with autism.
“The school did not follow the traditional theories and insisted on looking beyond what was expected,” recalled Goossens. As a result of these two influences, she changed her major and transferred to Bard College to pursue a degree in psychology. There, an advisor who shared her interest in autism worked with her on research and a thesis building on the pioneering work of Dr. Bernard Rimland, founder and director of San Diego’s Autism Research Institute. She went on to Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she completed a master’s degree in child psychology, a doctorate in human development, and, along the way, obtained a certificate in school psychology—helping to set her course.
Dr. Goossens appreciates her good fortune and privilege to work in settings that welcomed her hands-on approach, as well as her desire to work with students, parents, and teachers in a collaborative, creative way. She has worked as an evaluator at the Child Study Institute at Bryn Mawr, a school psychologist at a Montessori School, and has headed the psychology team at the Bancroft School. It was there, in the early 1990s, that she first worked with students who had been given the diagnosis of Asperger’s.
Later, Dr. Goossens accepted a position with New Jersey’s Pitman School District, where she worked for more than seven years. There, forward-thinking school leadership allowed her to create innovative interventions for students, provide training and direct support to teachers, develop appropriate transition plans for students returning to district from specialized settings, as well as work with students with Asperger’s and similar profiles within the kindergarten through eighth-grade classes.
“Those years gave me invaluable insight into the workings of a public school, the manner in which inclusion works or does not work, the reality our students face in such environments, as well as the issues faced by parents, child study teams and administrators,” said Dr. Goossens.
Then, in September of 2000, Dr. Goossens joined The Y.A.L.E. School at a time when their program for students with Asperger’s was in its infancy. She now oversees clinical and educational services for roughly 50 students in six classrooms housed in public schools in Medford and Mansfield Township. She is a sought-after speaker at conferences and workshops, and lectures at colleges.
“I love public speaking,” said Goossens, “but nothing is as rewarding as the day-to-day impact I can have on students: teaching social skill groups, working with teachers, providing staff development sessions, or simply being in the classroom. Our kids teach me something new every day.”