Canfield, YSU graduate motivated to help others

Correspondent photo / Bill Koch Morgan Davidson, a 2010 graduate of Canfield High School, is pursuing an educational specialist degree at Youngstown State University and hopes to one day become a school psychologist.

CANFIELD — Morgan Davidson always has been drawn to people who are overlooked.

At her 2010 Canfield High School graduation ceremony, “they moved me so I could stand by a classmate with special needs to help him as we walked. I was so flattered and excited that I got to do that.”

She brought that quality to Youngstown State University and in 2014, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in integrated mathematics education, allowing her to become a teacher. Although she also worked at ISLE Residential Services (part of the Purple Cat) and Horizon Science Academy, most of the next seven years she taught at Potential Development, a school in Youngstown that serves students on the autism spectrum.

Davidson described autism as “a developmental disability that impacts how someone might socialize or communicate with others.” It affects people in a variety of ways. Some may have difficulty picking up on nonverbal cues or understanding sarcasm and jokes. Some have academic limitations while others have extensive knowledge in one area. Some have rigid routines and become upset when patterns change. They often struggle to understand how they are perceived by others.

But it doesn’t mean they’re wrong — just different. Davidson explained the concept of “double empathy.”

“It needs to be a two-way street. People on the spectrum need to learn more about neurotypical people, but neurotypical people need to do the same thing for people on the spectrum. It’s about gaining a mutual understanding of each other and coming to some sort of middle ground.”

Because of her interest in psychology, Davidson returned to YSU and last year completed her master’s degree in intervention services. She is now pursuing an educational specialist degree, the next step beyond the master’s. She plans to graduate next summer after an internship and hopes to become a school psychologist, stating, “I’m willing to go wherever the best opportunity is.”

In addition to her studies, she is a graduate assistant in accessibility services in Kilcawley Center. This is where students with any type of disability go for reasonable accommodations to allow them the opportunity to be successful in class. Davidson said her two biggest accomplishments as a graduate assistant are providing academic coaching and starting an autism support group.

Academic coaching is different from tutoring. Davidson will “meet with students one-on-one and talk about whatever they need to be successful that semester.” This could include organizational skills such as creating a planner; study skills like how to take good notes or look for key ideas in a text; or interpersonal issues such as overcoming test anxiety, self-motivation techniques and communication with professors. Davidson said she encourages all students to consider academic coaching, whether disabled or not, as it develops tools needed for favorable outcomes.

The support group allows people on the spectrum to feel welcomed and less inhibited than they might in other settings. They don’t worry about making mistakes because “they know the other people there get it.” Davidson opens the meetings to get people engaged. After half an hour, she leaves so the members can determine what happens next.

“Autism groups should have the say and not just be taken over. Long-term, I want them to make it whatever they want it to be,” Davidson said.

Besides being a cat lover, her favorite hobby is listening to true crime podcasts. She likes trying to understand the motivations of the accused, as well as the valuable information that comes from it.

Otherwise, “my social life has taken a hit — first COVID, then grad school,” but she’s content to spend time with her fiance, Ben Shelby. They have a wedding date in October 2024, a few months after graduation.

“Disability is not a dirty word,” Davidson said, and while she enjoys working with various types of people, those on the autism spectrum have a special place in her heart. “Marching to the beat of your own drum. Sometimes I can relate to that. It’s OK to be not exactly like everyone else.”


To suggest a Saturday profile, contact Features Editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com or Metro Editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com.


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