Funding Source: CCPA’s Gertrude Heller Memorial Grant
This summer, I’m interning at the Lurie Center for Autism in Lexington, Massachusetts. A part of Massachusetts General Hospital, the Center provides multidisciplinary care for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders. One of the unique draws of the Lurie Center is that professionals in many different fields work closely to meet the various needs of the Center’s patients and their families. These professionals include psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, gastroenterologists, primary care physicians, and family support clinicians, as well as speech, occupational, and physical therapists. The Lurie Center treats patients of all ages. This model is infrequent in clinics specializing in ASD; more often, providers focus on pediatric and adolescent patients. Obtaining care for developmental disorders as an adult is therefore challenging. It’s exciting to be working at a place that is directly addressing these areas of need.
I’ve spent a large portion of my time in this internship focusing on clinical research. The studies I’m helping with focus on Williams Syndrome, a rare microdeletion of 26-28 genes on the seventh chromosome that often leads to cardiovascular problems, distinctive facial features, and friendly personalities among other manifestations. Anxiety is also common amongst individuals diagnosed with Williams Syndrome. I’ve been entering data from one study that uses patient and caregiver surveys to better understand and measure the way that people with Williams Syndrome experience anxiety, and another clinical study which is testing the effectiveness of a commonly used anxiety drug in this patient population. I’m also participating in preliminary research about racial and ethnic diversity in research on Williams Syndrome. Focusing on different projects around the same syndrome has been a great way to understand the topic from several different angles.
Another exciting aspect of the internship is the scheduled weekly seminars. Experts from the Center speak with the group of interns about aspects of the field or their specific area of work. These seminars have been essential for gaining a foundational understanding of ASD. I have learned about topics including restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, animal models in ASD research, and medical desensitization. These seminars have been an incredible opportunity to learn from experts who are very passionate about their work.
I’ve had the chance to shadow providers and research coordinators during patient interactions. I’ve really enjoyed this aspect of the internship as it has allowed me to see what I have learned in seminars in action and hear the stories of many different people. This firsthand experience has also been helpful to learn how clinical research works and why the work that is being done is important. So far, I’ve shadowed clinical psychologists, a family medicine physician, and psychiatrists, as well as seen neuropsychological evaluations, checkups, and research visits. Each appointment is different from the next and I’m consistently impressed by how the providers adapt to various situations.
One of the best parts of the internship has been the people that I have met. I’ve gotten to work with five other interns as well as a great mentorship team. It’s been amazing to collaborate with people who have similar interests and get a sense for what I want to do going forward. I’m really grateful for the Gertrude Albert Heller Memorial Grant for making this opportunity possible!