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Psychiatry Fellows Get First-hand Look at Autism Diagnostic Process

  • Bushraa Khatib
Posted on July 31, 2019
clinical observation room clinicians with toddler

In a new pilot program, clinicians at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute partnered with fellows in the Drexel Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship Program at the College of Medicine to provide physicians with first-hand experience on how an autism diagnosis is made. Fellows shadowed Autism Institute clinicians as they administered diagnostic assessments and a series of interviews with parents in order to evaluate symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Autism diagnoses can reliably be made by age two, although age at diagnosis in the U.S. is closer to four. Later diagnoses are even more common in communities where resources are limited. For many of the fellows, who often see older children or adults with autism through their medical training, this experience shed light on how the diagnosis is made in preschool age children, using gold standard assessment tools and procedures.   

Ayesha Waheed, M.D., Program Director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship, calls the partnership with the Autism Institute the highlight of the education and training experience of the fellows. “It provides a dynamic setting to first-hand appreciate the developmental impact of autism spectrum disorder and the strengths and challenges of providing cutting edge care to this patient population,” she said. “The exposure to the state-of-the-art research at Drexel Autism Institute coupled with superior clinical expertise provides a great foundation for our fellows to function as future leaders in treating youth with neurodevelopmental disabilities.” 

One of the participants was Connie Chang, M.D., Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Chief Fellow at Drexel University’s College of Medicine. She calls the overall experience invaluable, especially the in-classroom observation of patients, which is typically included when symptoms may be unclear during the in-clinic visit. “Comparing the [child] with his/her same-aged peers in the classroom gives us insight on what behaviors to look for to confirm a diagnosis of autism,” she said.  

Brigid Garvin, Ed.S., NCSP, is a School Psychologist and Clinical Supervisor at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute and led the fellows during their shadowing experience with the clinical team. She says that fellows reported that they left with more knowledge about early red flags, differential diagnoses, the components of a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation for ASD, and information about community resources and early intervention processes. “In fact, they shared that this was one of the most beneficial experiences of all community sites in their fellowship rotations.”  

The Clinical Core team is excited to continue the training experience for their fellows in the upcoming academic year and is also exploring ways to partner in a similar capacity with pediatric residents and medical students in the future. 

Posted in early-detection-intervention