IAP Health: Katherine Xie (’26)

Hi! My name is Katherine Xie, and I am a first-year student at MIT planning to major in computer science and cognitive science. During this IAP, I interned at the Resources Program in the Autism Program at the Boston Medical Center (BMC). My supervisor was Jacqueline McKendry, a behavior specialist. I worked on various individual and collaborative projects within the Resources Team and the general Autism Program team. I also had the opportunity to shadow a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and attend grand rounds at BMC. This experience gave me insight into the crucial role that medical centers like BMC play in their community while also giving me a chance to contribute to that meaningful work. 

1. Behavior Clinic Patient Data

My first Resources Program project involved recording Behavior Clinic patient data in a more concise format. My supervisor Jacqueline and a nurse practitioner Christina Lazdowsky run the Behavior Clinic, which meets with families of non-neurotypical children to advise them on their child’s behavior and connect them with valuable resources and services. This project involved searching the health record database EPIC for Behavior Clinic patients. I collected information related to each patient’s number of visits to the clinic and their notable behaviors, for example sleeping issues, self-injurious behavior, or anxiety. This log will be helpful for future record-keeping, applying for funding and grants for the clinic, and research. 

Reading through these patient health records and attending several behavior clinic visits, I was able to experience patient interaction firsthand. I learned how to address certain challenging behaviors and what types of resources will best support these families. 

2. Patient Casework and Caspio Resources Database

Another project I worked on dealt with researching and recording autism resources. This project had two parts: a more individualized, patient-specific portion and a more generalized portion. The first part was patient casework. One of the resource specialists on the team gave me and some other interns a list of patients that needed resources. Some examples of commonly requested services were autism family support groups, applied behavior analysis (ABA), assistance in a specific language, and recreational opportunities. For one patient, I helped to find autism-friendly recreational activities in Hyde Park. I found a karate school in Hyde Park and some ice skating and music programs in nearby towns. For another patient, I found ABA services provided in Khmer, the patient’s native language, and support groups that offered recreational activities for autistic children and their families. Researching resources made me realize that, although Massachusetts has one of the best autism resources in the nation, there are still areas where the services offered fall short. For example, when I tried to find Greek ABA services, I could not find an ABA center that directly offered services in Greek. There was a center that could provide interpreters for any language needed, but some information can always get lost in translation.

The second part of this project was entering resources into the Caspio Database, the Autism Program’s resource database. The goal of this project was to streamline the process of finding resources for patients. In my experience with patient casework, research can often take a long time, in which the patient is waiting for access to these resources. Especially since many patients may need similar resources, having a database can make it easier for autism resource specialists to get back to the patient’s family with a list of services they can try. When applying for services, many patients may face difficulties and have to apply to multiple agencies, so having a list of these resources would be the most helpful. Working on the Caspio Database and patient casework, I learned much about the wide range of autism resources available. However, I also saw how these patients could face many challenges even when trying to access the services they may urgently need, like ABA or language support services. 

3. Social Media

A small project I worked on was creating an Instagram post for BMC’s Instagram page. In October of 2022, Boston University’s Agganis Arena opened a sensory room to the public. They also now provide sensory tool bags with sunglasses, noise-canceling headphones, and fidget toys. These additions can help those who may suffer from sensory overload during their visit to the arena. Agganis Arena is the first arena to offer these resources. The purpose of this social media post was to highlight this autism-friendly activity so that families can identify places with these support systems already in place. 

Outside of these resource team-specific projects, I made Autism Support Checklist (ASC) calls and updated the Autism Registry. The ASC calls and Autism Registry will aid in making patient visits run smoother. ASC calls help to record a patient’s behaviors in a concise format, and the Autism Registry identifies the current services that a patient has access to. These two projects are so vital to the autism care program at BMC and will help physicians and resource specialists alike to provide the best care possible for a patient. 

During my month at BMC, I also shadowed a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, Dr. Marilyn Augustyn. Through this experience, I learned just how many factors play into the direct care of a patient. I learned about the challenges of diagnosing autism, especially differentiating between genetically-influenced developmental delay and autism spectrum disorder. I saw firsthand how important having an interpreter could be. I learned about the more technical aspects of a patient visit as well. Before one patient appointment, Dr. Augustyn explained the different diagnostic tests that are used to diagnose autism and when each one should be used. Although I only spent a couple of hours shadowing, it was a great experience to see the interaction between the patient, doctor, and family play out. During grand rounds, I was amazed by how much the physicians valued the process of continual learning and keeping up with current practices and laws. 

I am glad to have been given the opportunity to work on projects that have the potential to positively impact so many families. I really enjoyed my time interning at the Autism Program–I learned so much about the multifaceted support system that BMC’s pediatric department provides to those in need. I went into this program knowing almost nothing about autism or how to support autistic people; I’m grateful to have engaged in the resources team’s work to support their patients while also learning about helpful resources. At the beginning of IAP, I had been unsure of whether I wanted to pursue a career in a health-related field, but after this month, seeing how passionate and motivated everyone I met at BMC was about improving the lives of their patients, I am looking forward to being a part of this meaningful work in the future. 

To learn more about the PKG IAP:Health program, click here

Tags: Health, Health & Medicine, IAP Health, IAP Health 2023

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