Working with Individuals in Crisis: Alumna Alicia Ead

Alicia Ead

Alicia Ead is a busy professional. Her specialties are twofold: autism education and working with high-risk, crisis-level psychiatric patients.

With a master’s degree in social work earned at RIC in 2021, Ead juggles three jobs and a nonprofit.

She works per diem at the Autism Project, providing trainings for parents of children with autism; per diem at Rhode Island Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Services Unit, where she performs psych evals on incoming patients; and full-time at the Bradley Learning Exchange, where she trains Bradley Hospital clinical and support staff on how to work with high-risk, crisis-level psychiatric patients – a skill she uses in both the ER and at Bradley.

In the ER, patients are often resistant or apprehensive to seek out treatment, she says. Her point of entry is empathy. She also puts to use her skills as a certified instructor in crisis de-escalation and physical management.

At Bradley Hospital, a psychiatric facility devoted exclusively to children and adolescents, she uses the same tools. “If a child is displaying aggressive or challenging behavior, we come in [a team of five education behavioral specialists] to model for the staff and to coach staff on how to work with the child,” says Ead.

“Not many professionals know how to work with high-risk populations,” she says. “Clinicians tend to specialize in a certain area. They may specialize in working with substance abuse populations or populations with anxiety disorders or eating disorders. Not many, however, are trained to work with high-level psychiatric patients.”

That is why the Bradley Learning Exchange offers trainings and professional development to any clinician who works within Lifespan as well as Rhode Island teachers and first responders.

"Autism is another area where not a lot of people are trained," she says. Ead became certified in autism education at CCRI when her son was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. In 2019 she cofounded a nonprofit called the Public Safety Special Needs Coalition. Fellow cofounders are retired fire fighter Chuck Karboski (executive director of the coalition); firefighters Chris Tardie and Andrew Jacques; and Lincoln police officer John Sexton. Ead is assistant director of the coalition.

“One of the things we do is hold meet-and-greets,” she says. “These are events where children or adults with autism or special needs can meet with first responders in a fun setting because, normally, they only see first responders in a high-stress, crisis situation.”

Alicia Ead
From left, Rhode Island State Police Capt. Kenneth Jones, Executive Director and Co-founder of Public Safety Special Needs Coalition (PSSNC) Chuck Karboski, PSSNC Co-founder Alicia Ead and Lincoln Firefighter and PSSNC Co-founder Andrew Jacques

This summer the coalition hosted a meet-and-greet at the State Police barracks, drawing 200 families. They also hosted a bowling event at CW Lanes and Games in Lincoln, Rhode Island. There, police, fire and rescue workers came in uniform to bowl with children. That event drew 25 families.

“The last time we offered bowling, the weekend after the event, a mom called 911 about her child who was having a meltdown,” Ead says. “When the ambulance and fire trucks showed up, it just so happened that some of the fire fighters had been at the bowling event and remembered the child. The child also remembered them. They were able to de-escalate the child, and the child didn’t have to be transported to the hospital. That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

Between averting crises and training professionals to deal with them, Ead is in her comfort zone.

“I actually prefer working with high-level patients,” she says. “I like the challenge it provides. I’m always learning from every interaction, developing a new set of skills and new strategies to help support people.”