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Caring for others

Ecampus psychology student works to create safe spaces for children with special needs to thrive

Christiania-Main

When psychology student Christiania Jefferies’ son Greenley was diagnosed with autism at age 2, Christiania gained a new purpose in life: Learn about how people develop and why some develop differently. So she enrolled in Oregon State Ecampus where she’s applying what she learns in class to her life at home and at work.

By Heather Doherty  
April 24, 2017

A perfect day for Christiania Jefferies involves her toes dug in the sand, her 5-year-old son, Greenley, building a sandcastle by her side and sunshine peeking through the clouds and embracing her.

This is an ideal scenario for anyone, but there’s a reason it’s particularly important to Christiania, and it’s often invisible to others.

It’s a situation in which her son can be himself: He can play without any worries, let go of any preconceptions or anxiety and enjoy quality time with his mom.

“The beach is one of his favorite places, and while we’re there, we can pretend that autism isn’t a part of our lives for a while,” she says. “To see him so free on the beach and so happy, it fills my heart as a mom. I can’t think of anything more rewarding.”

Watch this video to hear why Christiania says earning a psychology degree is helping her teach her son and other children like him. Video by Rick Henry.

But while quality beach time in Christiania’s hometown of Tillamook, Oregon, is a must, so is facing the reality, she says. When Greenley was diagnosed with autism at age 2, Christiania gained a new purpose: Learn about how people develop and why some develop differently.

Over the years, Greenley has developed into an adventurous, happy boy who, despite the absence of advanced verbal communication skills, you wouldn’t even know is on the autism spectrum.

Early intervention efforts played a key role in Greenley’s lifetime successes, and his first in-home teacher noticed a natural ability in Christiania.

“She would see me practicing these techniques and told me, ‘You should teach. You’re really good at this.’ She saw a strength in me that I didn’t even know I had,” Christiania says.

And now Christiania wants to do the same for others, and Oregon State Ecampus is making it possible.

“My ultimate goal is to be able to teach kids with autism and also to provide that support to other families and kids that have gone through similar things we have,” she says.

“My ultimate goal is to be able to teach kids with autism and also to provide that support to other families and kids that have gone through similar things we have.”

In order to provide that level of care, Christiania knew she needed an education. But leaving her small town full of community support was not an option.

So she enrolled in Tillamook Community College where she found out about Oregon State University’s Degree Partnership Program, an efficient and affordable pathway that allows students to take classes at both their local community college and Oregon State.

She then enrolled in the psychology bachelor’s degree program, delivered online through OSU Ecampus, and quickly realized taking classes online is the perfect solution for her.

“In order to stay here in this community where both my son and I are thriving and really happy, online learning was the way to go for me,” she says.

Christiania credits the support of her dad, her employers and her community for being able to work toward her goal of earning a degree and helping her son and others. “My dad helps me with my son when I need to study or go to class. He’s been really supportive and I couldn’t imagine doing it without him,” she says. “We also have a great community through our churches where my son has a lot of ‘grandmothers.’ And it feels great to have my supervisors behind me and encouraging me.”

Christiania says earning a degree wouldn’t be possible without all of the support she’s received. “My dad helps me with my son when I need to study or go to class. He’s been really supportive and I couldn’t imagine doing it without him,” she says. “We also have a great community through our churches where my son has a lot of ‘grandmothers.’ And it feels great to have my supervisors behind me and encouraging me.”

An active community member, Christiania volunteers at her father’s church community garden and food pantry and works full time as a special education assistant at a local elementary school.

“I’m in the classroom supporting kids with their academics, as well as with behavior issues,” she says. “The fact that we offer so much for these kids to succeed is so inspiring for me.”

There, she applies the techniques she’s learning in the Ecampus virtual classroom to her in-person classroom.

“My human development course was really eye-opening to what the normal development is, and then I was able to compare that to what I’ve observed for my son,” she says. “And it applies to my classroom teachings as well.”

After graduation, Christiania plans to pursue a master’s degree in psychology.

“This degree is going to help me be able to support my son and my family the way I want to and to see him grow and to be able to help him, as well as other children in our community and their families,” she says. “And I really look forward to the future.”

In the meantime – and always – she’ll continue enjoying building sandcastles with Greenley at their beach getaway.

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