“Working with kids in a clinical environment, working through some difficulty or challenge they’re facing, is something I believe I could really help children with,” says Troy Boucher.

Students, FASS News, Psychology

Work/study lab position inspires career choice

December 16, 2019

SFU psychology alumnus Troy Boucher always knew he wanted a career working with children, although he was uncertain about what type of career that might be. But after gaining on-the-job experience during a student work/study position in Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Autism and Developmental Disorders Lab (ADDL), he found his niche.

“That’s when things opened up for me and I could see exactly what I wanted to do,” recalls Boucher. “Working with kids in a clinical environment, working through some difficulty or challenge they’re facing, is something I believe I could really help children with.”

Now, he hopes to enter SFU’s master’s program in clinical psychology towards becoming a clinical psychologist. He wants to help children with neurodiversity, a concept that recognizes and respects neurological differences, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as part of our brain’s natural diversity.

Working as a researcher and then lab manager in the ADDL, Boucher learned first-hand about how the challenges facing neurodiverse youth can affect their social, emotional and cognitive function.

What’s more, he encountered some of those challenges himself when he arrived at SFU at age 17. He struggled to balance a heavy course load with goalie duties for the SFU men’s lacrosse team before discovering, in his second year, that he has ADHD.

With support from Student Services’ Health and Counselling, however, he developed coping strategies that led to academic success.

“My diagnosis has given me the lived experience to understand the struggles that neurodiverse youth [may] face in school, social interactions and in family life,” he says.

During his second year at the Autism and Developmental Disorders Lab, Boucher began designing his own research studies. He also took over operations for the annual SFU Social Science camp that each summer attracts about 90 kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. They participate in activities, research and games while their parents attend free workshops and get involved in the lab’s research.

Boucher supervised 80 volunteers at the camp while also working with campers who may experience challenging behaviour and emotions. As well, he managed data collected from more than 40 caregivers. He says running the camp and working directly with neurodiverse children honed his leadership skills and boosted his confidence to become involved in larger lab and community projects.

Off campus, Boucher volunteers as a researcher for a Special Olympics BC initiative to reduce the health gap between neurotypical people and those with an intellectual disability. This population experiences dramatically higher rates of preventable disease, chronic pain and has a lower life expectancy.

Although Boucher graduated earlier this year with an honours degree in psychology, he continues to manage the lab. He hopes to extend his honours research thesis topic into an MA research project if he’s accepted into the clinical psychology program.

“I want to understand how the very intense interests of many children diagnosed with ASD play a role in their social development and emotional regulation,” he says. “When a child talks about these interests you can see them light up because it’s something they’re truly passionate about. We’re approaching this in a way that sees these special interests as a benefit rather than a detriment.”