Newswise — TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- While some young boys might dream of being an astronaut or football player when they grow up, one just hopes to grow up. In and out of remission for the past couple of years, his life has revolved around pain, fatigue, frustration, fear and long hospital stays.
Sara Howard meets children like this on a daily basis. As a child life specialist intern at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, the 22-year-old University of Alabama senior understands the importance of play.
“When you see a kid who has been battling cancer over and over, you wonder why it’s happening,” she said. “But when you give that child a toy and they really start to play, they become so lost in what they’re doing that nothing else matters.”
Child life specialists help children and their families overcome challenging life experiences, particularly those relating to health.
“People always think that you must be cold and hard to be able to work with kids and families who are suffering so much,” said Howard. “But it’s my compassion and heart that allows me to do just that.”
The child life profession has developed and grown tremendously over the years. There are now 47 certified child life specialists in Alabama, according to Child Life Council, a nonprofit organization representing more than 5,000 child life professionals, associates and students across the nation. While traditionally found in hospitals, an increasing number of child life specialists are finding work in doctor’s offices, specialized camps, schools, court systems and other nontraditional settings. The growth in The University of Alabama’s child life program mirrors the growth seen in the field. Universtiy faculty measure the growth of the program by looking at the number of seniors accepted into it. In 2005, there were six seniors completing their coursework and applying for internships; that number now stands at 20 to 25 seniors.