When she was 18 months old, Dr. Christina Baker’s little sister stopped babbling, making eye contact or interacting with others. She was eventually diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and Dr. Baker witnessed firsthand her sister’s journey with the condition.
At the time, the medical community was just beginning to recognize the condition, and there was little research on effective treatments. However, Dr. Baker’s sister began to show quick and positive advancements with the help of child psychologists and other support services.
Dr. Baker watched her sister reach social and physical developmental milestones despite her diagnosis. It was this experience that made Dr. Baker realize the impact a clinical psychologist could have on the quality of a child's life. Though she was only a teenager at the time, Dr. Baker knew she wanted to help other children in need.
Today, Dr. Baker is a clinical psychologist for the child partial hospitalization program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. The program specializes in caring for children ages 6 to 12 who are experiencing significant behavioral and emotional problems in school, at home and in their social life. These behaviors can include anger management, depression and extreme anxiety, sometimes related to a child’s autism. Up to 10 children participate in the program at any given time, allowing caregivers to provide individualized care to each child.
“I am very dedicated to each child, but I'm most passionate about the extreme cases,” Dr. Baker says. “I feel like I understand these kiddos more deeply because of my childhood and what I witnessed with my sister. I want to instill hope in the child and their family that things can and will get better.”
Children in the program spend 15 days in a highly structured, therapeutic setting. Dr. Baker works with her patients on building self-esteem and relationships, as well as techniques for improving and maintaining positive behavior. She implements parent-child interaction therapy, which teaches parents the skills to continue the learning experience at home. Dr. Baker and her colleagues see continuous success in patients who take part in the program, she says.
“We strive to repair and rebuild the parent-child relationship, which may be seriously impacted by what’s occurring at home,” Dr. Baker says. “The highest satisfaction we get is to watch parents develop and increase physical and emotional closeness with their child by the end of the program.”
Today, Dr. Baker’s sister is a culinary arts student at a community college. She has a part-time job and loves spending time with her close group of friends. Her sister’s continued success motivates Dr. Baker’s work to ensure each child receives the tools needed for a thriving future.
“A lot of the work we do is to plant seeds,” Dr. Baker says. “We know it’s not always easy for a child to take in what we’re saying. But our hope is that one day, they will come to recognize the strength we always knew was there.”
Learn more about the Child and Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.