Current data, according to The Autism Program at Boston Medical Center, suggests that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) occurs in 1 in 45 individuals. Though supports are often in place to serve young children with ASD and their families, a new curriculum developed by an interdisciplinary team at Boston University addresses the concern that “services for young adult, and transitional age youth in particular, are limited and difficult to access.”
Faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Medical Center spent the summer working with an SED team to develop a training curriculum for psychiatry residents and medical students learning about diagnosis and treatment with the specific aim of helping them to better understand the transitional age (16-22) patient population with ASD.
Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services and Department of Mental Health, the project is co-directed by Dr. Lisa Fortuna, MD, MPH, Medical Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at BMC and Dr. Marilyn Augustyn, MD who, as Director of the BMC Autism Project, is one of only 600 developmental pediatricians in the country. Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Dana Rubin, MD, MSW is the curriculum director.
The SED team was led by Dr. Michelle Porche, Clinical Associate Professor in Applied Human Development, who has collaborated on other multidisciplinary research projects with faculty at BMC. As a complement to her own independent research projects, Dr. Porche has been able to combine her content knowledge with abilities in video production to help other researchers on NIH-funded projects communicate about their work through videography of training and dissemination materials.
Dr. Porche worked alongside third year Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student Bob Diehl who, prior to coming to SED, taught as a special education teacher for students with ASD, and has some opportunities to provide counseling services for clients with ASD at his current counseling psychology practicum. He used this expertise in developing original content and website organization for the curriculum.
“There’s a huge need identified by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health for physicians, specialists, and mental health workers to better understand Autism for transitional age youth,” Dr. Porche said. “There’s a call for more work to be done around training in terms of providing services to this population, and we were able to help to make it happen by contributing videography and other curriculum resources.”
Dr. Porche and Mr. Diehl conducted and filmed interviews with specialists across disciplines including psychiatry, neurology, gastroenterology, and genetics in order to illustrate the challenges that are particular to patients with ASD during this developmental period in their lives.
“The people that we’re working with are pretty amazing,” Mr. Diehl, who is studying mindfulness and self-compassion in sport, said of the project. “To be in this setting where a lot of different experts from different disciplines are able to come together to meet the needs of these folks and their families was pretty incredible.”
In addition to the videography they developed for training, Dr. Porche and Mr. Diehl also worked with Drs. Fortuna, Augustyn, and Rubin to help compile slide decks from 20 different BMC experts and community-based affiliates, and contributed training materials for the project. They also built a comprehensive bibliography and put together an internal website for instructors to facilitate delivery of the curriculum.
“The content includes pieces that consider culture and language, and how that has implications for recognizing, diagnosing, and treating ASD,” Dr. Porche said, adding that it also addresses legal issues around guardianship, as well as information about individualized education plans.
“It calls to attention everything that this population could be facing,” she said. The curriculum, called “All Grown Up, the Many Faces of Autism: A Developmental Approach to Behavioral Health Care for the Transition Age Youth Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (and Intellectual Disabilities)” will be rolled out this fall at Boston Medical Center. State funders for the project have provided additional support for a psychiatry fellow at BMC who will specialize in working with ASD transition age youth while also helping to disseminate the curriculum.
“We learned so much,” Mr. Diehl said. “This is a population that is near and dear to my heart, so I always try to find ways to connect back to it. What we were able to help develop will hopefully further education in this topic and improve treatment and services.”
Click on this link to see a sample overview video from staff at The Autism Project at BMC.