Student doctors host interactive seminar on autism; sponsored by LUCOM-ACOP

Christopher Breedlove :: LUCOM Marketing | Aug 25, 2015

Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) hosted Autism: 101, an educational workshop on recognizing and helping those with autism, on Saturday, Aug. 22, inside the Center for Medical and Health Sciences on the campus of Liberty University. The event was open to student doctors, medical and emergency professionals, and members of the Lynchburg community. The student organization American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians (ACOP) sponsored the event.

Autism is commonly referred to as “autism spectrum disorder”, a developmental disability appearing in early stages of a person’s life, generally during infancy or early childhood. It dramatically affects the interaction of its victims with their families and other members of society with disabilities such as understanding what he or she sees, hears, and otherwise senses. Individuals diagnosed with autism have profound difficulty processing verbal and nonverbal communication, as well as, expressing what they feel, which ultimately effects how they interact with others.

"Having studied and worked primarily in family medicine for over 30 years, autism still remains a complex developmental disorder that is difficult to accurately characterize. It is often said, “If you have met one individual with autism, you have met one individual with autism,” said Ronnie B. Martin, D.O., Dean of LUCOM. “Diagnosed individuals with autism vastly differ from one another. Their social communications skills, their repetitive behaviors and triggers are never equal. Hosting this event for our student doctors and the community today allowed important factors in interacting with these patients to be conveyed and encouraged our mission of training osteopathic physicians highly prepared for family medicine.”

Autism: 101 was presented principally by Commonwealth Autism (CA), a non-profit organization located in Richmond, Virginia, that provides supportive resources for families, service providers, and individuals with autism, as well as, striving to expand the autism service provider network through partnerships and collaborations. According to a statistic provided by Commonwealth Autism and supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every day 1 in 68 children are impacted by an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. An additional presented figure stated that 1 in 150 children are affected (supported by Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network). 

Amber Kaufman, M.S., BCBA, LBAAutumn Kaufman, M.S., BCBA, LBA, Director of Partnerships with Commonwealth Autism, led the four-hour event with a detailed history of autism and the resources available on how to interact with individuals who have autism. She also offered clinical applications utilizing case-based learning techniques, presentations on the advancement of autism research, and concluded with interactive emergency scenarios and strategies. “Having even a brief symposium on such an expansive disorder is incredibly important. The state of Virginia is ranked 38 in providing resources for individuals with autism, an unfortunate statistic,” said Kaufman. “This is my first visit to speak on autism at a medical school training student doctors who are considering entry into family practice or pediatric practices. The response and feedback from the attendees, specifically LUCOM student doctors, encourages me both personally and professionally as the awareness and interaction with those diagnosed with autism grows.”

Attendees of Autism: 101 participants were able to take away three key components: (1) plan ahead by taking initial information of medical history, communication methods, successful calming techniques, specific triggers, and insurance information in advance, if possible, to avoid delays and excessive stimulation; (2) taking actions to benefit treatment such as providing rapid entry into quiet, private exam rooms with cloth examination bed covers instead of paper, extending patient diagnosis and evaluation time to avoid hurrying and stress, assessing specific pain indicators and sensitivities, allowing familiar members of the family along with caregivers to assist with interacting with the diagnosed patient, adjusting interactions to the patient’s level of communication, and even using pictures or devices like Nexus pads to tell a story; and (3) being prepared and proactive when encounters or stimulation adversely affects a patient, knowing how to adapt to behavioral challenges such as  prolonged screaming and yelling, deep withdrawal, physical confrontation by instructing all members of the treatment team on how to gently and quietly assist not just the physician but also the families, and how to encourage caregivers.

“The sensory sensitivities and the cognitive, language, and social impairments of individuals with autism spectrum disorder make stressful emergency and medical situations only escalate that much more quickly. There have been far too many horror stories of individuals with autism being mistaken as mentally disturbed, intentionally uncooperative, or dangerously aggressive criminals, and subsequently being treated as such,” said Stephanie Wesley, student-doctor, Class of 2018, and LUCOM-ACOP National Liaison. “It is my opinion that proper knowledge of autism spectrum disorder is severely lacking. By hosting events that bring various professionals together, the LUCOM chapter of ACOP hopes to unite emergency responders and medical professionals of every specialty so that we can focus on working together to provide the best possible care for every individual.”

A major sponsor of Autism: 101 was Rock Bridge Family Services (RBFS), a faith-based, non-profit ministry founded in 2009 that is committed to supporting and improving the lives of families who deal with autism by providing education, support, and group home settings that provide therapy, counseling, and training. James Cook, Chair of RBFS and Director of Medical Outreach and International Medicine for LUCOM, spoke at the event offering personal testimonies and how Rock Bridge Family Services came to be. “I have served in the military. I have been on the front lines of war. But, nothing is as intense as the battle of understanding a child diagnosed with autism, especially when that child is your own,” expressed Cook. “My wife and I started Rock Bridge because we knew first hand the difficulties of raising a child with autism. We know the financial hardships. We know the insurance struggles. We’ve experienced the lack of resources to help us. That’s our mission in life; to be the resource for others that we didn’t have.” Cook’s 19-year old son, Jacob, suffers from autism and was also present.

James Cook“It is often said, “you want your child to outlive you.” Think about that statement from someone’s perspective that has a child diagnosed with autism. For my wife and I? We are not certain that we want Jacob to outlive us. It is a sad, but powerful statement to make,” added Cook. “Our concern is who will take care of Jacob when we’re gone? Who will positively provide for him the way he needs, demands, and is used to?” Rock Bridge Family Services and the resources at Commonwealth Autism exist in part to help families establish long term care plans for their families. That is one of the underlining themes of this event: preparation.”

David Klink, D.O., Pediatrician at LUCOM, attended Autism: 101 and offered brief advice during a question and answer session. “As student doctors begin to train yourselves now to prepare for what lies ahead. Know the information about childhood personality and behavioral disorders, not just autism. Learn to build a foundation of trust with the families and the patients you will one day treat. Learn from everyone, nurses, therapists, caregivers, counselors, and health care professionals who have experienced what you haven’t yet. Never let ego or arrogance stop you from learning, as your future patients will suffer due to such obstinacy. .”

Autism: 101 was the first outside guest speaking engagement for the 2015-2016 academic year and according to Lisa Pinelli, first-year student doctor (Class of 2019), gave her the confidence in identifying behavioral patterns of someone who has autism. “What I took away from this event was how to react appropriately when encountering autism. Ms. Kaufman offered incredible tools and Mr. Cook’s powerful testimony deeply encouraged me to move forward with my passion in life and that is to serve within primary care.”

Commenting on her first few weeks of being a student doctor at LUCOM, Pinelli also expressed, “I am honored to be at LUCOM. The mission of this college is directly tied to service and positively impacting the community. We are learning more than just medical support on how to assist future patients and their families; we are gaining wisdom from experienced professionals on the emotional and psychological level, as well.”

“It is my sincerest hope to return to LUCOM and share new discoveries about Commonwealth Autism research, support levels, and even collaborate on a partnership. This is an amazing new osteopathic school and if today’s positive interaction with LUCOM student doctors is any indicator of the caliber they have recruited, than I am truly encouraged about the future of health care. They are set to become family and world-changing physicians,” concluded Kaufman.