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Grad Student Applies Skills
to Helping Disabled Children
in China
September 13, 1999

fter nearly eight years of study in UConn's psychology department, Sarah Bullard knows she has learned valuable skills. This summer, the doctoral student in clinical psychology learned that those skills can transcend language and cultural barriers.

In June, Bullard traveled to Yantai, a city in China's Shandong province, to volunteer at a center for disabled children that was co-founded by Sisters Jessica Waig and Serena Johnson, UConn alumnae and long-time friends of Bullard.

Waig and Johnson helped establish the center with a Chinese man, Jian Yang, who wanted to found a special needs center to help his daughter, who has cerebral palsy, and other disabled children. Johnson's husband, Brent, secured funding from various private donors to build the center and construction began in late 1997.

The China Yantai Special Children's Center opened last December. Brent and Serena Johnson live in Beijing, where they handle administrative duties for the center. Waig, a certified nurse's aide, and Yang provide on-site supervision at the sparsely furnished facility on the outskirts of Yantai. Five young women also live at the center and provide round-the-clock care for the 12 children, ranging in age from three months to 15 years old.

During her two-week stay, Bullard rose by 6:30 a.m. each day and helped with the children's daily care. She also gave talks on parenting skills and the brain's functioning to the workers at the center.

Prior to her visit, none of the children had received a psychological assessment. Although she spoke no Chinese when she arrived at the center, Bullard assessed each child's language and motor functioning, daily living skills and socialization, and presented the results to the center's staff. She also developed a behavior modification for an eight-year-old child with attention deficit disorder.

Bullard, who hopes to do neuropsychological assessments and work in a multicultural setting, says her work at the center affirmed her career choice.

"It solidified what I want to do - working with kids," she says.

Waig says Bullard's work was invaluable. At least half of the children still don't have clear medical diagnoses, but Bullard's assessments allowed the center's staff to see where the children are behaviorally and proceed accordingly, she says.

As an undergraduate, Waig spent some time studying in China, and she created an individualized major in Chinese area studies. Unlike Bullard, however, she had no formal experience with children before she began working at the center in December.

Bullard says she was impressed by all that Waig has done.

"I have no idea how Jess finds the strength to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she says. "She really amazed me with the depth of her medical knowledge and the effortless manner in which she accomplishes things."

Waig, who plans to stay at the center until at least next March, enjoys knowing that she's helping others. "The most rewarding thing is knowing that you're making at least a little bit of a difference in somebody's life," she says.

After Bullard's successful visit, Waig hopes to find medical experts from this country who are willing to travel to the center and diagnose the children. Anyone interested in helping at the center can reach Waig via e-mail at

Allison Thompson