Supporting the spectrum

Clinical psychologist Barbara Bear pursues an MJ in Children's Law & Policy to better serve kids in court 

Barbara Bear’s experience with autism comes from a personal place: Two of her sons were diagnosed as being on the spectrum. When her youngest was repeatedly punished at school for “breaking the rules,” she began focusing on the importance of treating behaviors instead of punishing them. “He wasn’t a bad kid,” she says. “He just didn’t know how to explain and cope with his emotions.”

As a clinical psychologist, Bear’s understanding of autism is both personal and professional. Now, she’s expanding the ways she can help children in need by pursuing her Master of Jurisprudence in Children’s Law and Policy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. “The court system needs more people who can advocate for kids who can’t advocate for themselves,” Bear says.

“The court system needs more people who can advocate for kids who can’t advocate for themselves.”

In her work as a psychologist, Bear is sometimes called to give courtroom testimonies for cases that involve custody battles. Children with autism don’t always understand metaphors or social cues, she says, and sometimes, they’re even nonverbal. In the courtroom, Bear serves as a translator who understands kids’ unique behaviors and needs. “The parents had lawyers. I kept asking myself—where is the child’s voice? It was never heard,” she says.

In 2020, Bear became a supervising psychologist for several group homes for adolescents with autism and complex clinical needs. There, she witnessed how autistic behaviors could result in severe consequences like juvenile detention. “When I looked at what their offense was, it was usually something like an autistic meltdown, but it was misunderstood,” she says.

Bear had already spent her psychology career educating teachers, law enforcement officers, and legal workers about helping children on the spectrum. But her work in the group homes revealed how much a legal background could bolster her advocacy work.

After graduating, Bear plans to continue working as a psychologist, with a law degree complementing her clinical practice. Her legal training will allow her to function as a guardian ad litem, representing children’s best interests in the courtroom.

“I want to advocate for those children whose voices are not heard,” she says. –Megan Kirby (June 2021)


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Family law, including children's law, is one of the "12 hottest practice specialties of the future," according to the National Jurist






A key voice in children's law and policy, the Civitas Childlaw Center prepares law students, lawyers, and other leaders to be effective advocates for children and families through curricular opportunities and practical, real-world training.  Learn More