Educating Medical Students about Autism Spectrum Disorder

clinicalDisability affects nearly one in five people today, and this number is growing. Alarming health disparities exist for people with disabilities (PWD). PWD experience increased barriers to routine care in comparison to their counterparts without disabilities. This population reports poorer health outcomes, increased secondary conditions, less access to preventive health services, and a lack of routine managed care.

Disability specific content incorporated into medical school curriculum will ensure that students have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and competence necessary to provide quality, effective, and compassionate care to patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilites. We have partnered with clinical educators to introduce disability content in the medical school curriculum at The Ohio State University.

1st Year Medical Students

As a part of a Musculoskeletal Panel first year medical students are taught about physical and mobility related disablites by Dr. Ellen Kaitz of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

3rd Year Medical Students

The Nisonger Center faciliates panel discussions on the healthcare needs of children and adults with ASD. Panels are faciliated by Dr. Karen Ratliff-Schaub and consists of panel members made up of people with ASD, parents and other family members. All third year medical students participate in this encounter.

4th Year Medical Students

Efforts are being made to engage students in an Advanced Clinical Pediatric course by implementing home visits, online learning and and participation in interdisciplinary clinics at Nisonger Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The goal of this  course will be for students to develop an advanced clinical competency in developmental disabilites. Dr. Karen Ratliff-Schaub and Dr. Paula Rabidoux are coordinating this effort.

Autism Curriculum Guide Website

REAL: Resources Education Alignment Linkages

In an effort to help medical schools integrate content on developmental disabilites a team from Nisonger Center has developed an Autism Curriculum Guide Website aimed at teaching medical students to provide care for patients with ASD. The website provides background information about ASD, a step-by-step guide to including PWD in medical curricula, video-taped vignettes featuring interviews and physical exams with patients who have ASD and video-taped panel discussions featuring adults with ASD. This resource may be helpful to faculty, students and families alike.

The website was funded through a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, entitled REAL Action: Resources, Education, Alignment and Linkages.The goal of the REAL Action in Ohio grant is to bring together the collective expertise and perspectives of families, the public service system, the medical community, the university community, and service providers- ultimately, to improve information about, and access to, comprehensive, coordinated health care and related services for children with ASD and their families. For more information about this the Autism Curriculum Guide Website click here.

Feedback from Medical Students

“I didn’t even realize I had such preconceived notions about ASD but the exercise helped to cement in my mind that this is a spectrum and while some interactions might be very difficult there are some very high functioning individuals that we will encounter as well so to take people as individuals instead of treating them as a representation of a disorder was enlightening. This is a lesson I will take with me in my career…”

“I was immediately surprised at her willingness to talk with the medical student interviewer and openly discuss her life. This openness to communication contradicted my preconceived notions of how autistic patients conduct themselves. As the interview unfolded, I became increasingly astounded by the depth at which she understood her disease. She was able to articulate the way her thought processes differed from most other people, and she did so in a way that I could actually understand. She went on to explain the mechanisms she had developed over the course of her life to cope with her difficulties and why they work for her. I also found it extremely interesting to hear about her childhood – how things that most people take for granted, such as language skills and assigning meaning to senses, were so absolutely foreign to her initially. Looking back on the interview and the discussion that followed, I believe the most important thing I learned was to approach each autistic-spectrum patient as an individual that has their own ways of dealing with their disease.”

“I also really appreciated the perspective the patients gave on their disorder, including the struggle they have faced within the medical community. This certainly expanded my perspective on autism, giving me greater insight into how it is expressed and how it affects the medical interview. I feel like I learned many things about autism and disabilities from this experience that will help provide me with a strong foundation for future encounters with patients with disabilities.”