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John Strang

Neuro- and gender-diverse teens find their voices

John Strang

“These autistic young people spoke a lot about their gender and gender needs and their descriptions of gender dysphoria were deeply emotional. One of the common characteristics of autism is reduced communication of feelings, yet many of these young people were very clear about the anguish that gender dysphoria caused for them and also their need for gender-related interventions,” says John Strang, Psy.D., director of the Gender and Autism Program at Children’s National Health System and study lead.

“They Thought It Was An Obsession” is the title of a qualitative study from the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, that provides an unprecedented glimpse into the development, thoughts, perceptions, feelings and needs of this poorly understood but significant subgroup of transgender and gender minority teens.

The title is an accurate reflection of the study’s analysis, which finds that the accounts of gender dysphoria in autistic transgender youth parallel those of transgender young people without autism. These findings stand in contrast to previous studies asserting the idea that gender dysphoria in autistic youth is driven primarily by superficial autism-related interests.

“These autistic young people spoke a lot about their gender and gender needs and their descriptions of gender dysphoria were deeply emotional. One of the common characteristics of autism is reduced communication of feelings, yet many of these young people were very clear about the anguish that gender dysphoria caused for them and also their need for gender-related interventions,” says John Strang, Psy.D., director of the Gender and Autism Program at Children’s National Health System and study lead.

Additionally, the autistic characteristics of these young people – which may reduce their concern for social conventions – often lead them to express their gender in individual and sometimes surprising ways.

“A transgender autistic young woman may wear a full beard and understand her gender identity as something completely separate from her appearance,” says Dr. Strang. “The cooccurrence of gender identity-diversity and autism may reveal something of the deeper nature of gender when the overlay of social gender expectations is reduced.”

The study followed 22 autistic transgender teens over nearly two years. It is the first study of its kind to track and follow up with this many youth with the cooccurrence over a significant period of time. The authors believe the report can serve as a guide for how clinicians, peers and families can better support and understand teens who are both neurodiverse and gender diverse.

The study’s methodology is also novel, as it features the inclusion of a slate of autistic gender-diverse coanalysts and coauthors who partnered in the interpretation of the youth provided data.

The coauthor group also included a retransitioned (previously transgender) self-advocate coanalyst to help provide context regarding the experiences and trajectories of the few study participants who moved away from transgender identity during the study’s duration.

Reid Caplan of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, an autistic transgender self-advocate and one of the study’s coauthors noted, “Too often in medical literature, the overlap between autistic and transgender identities is described in a way that pathologizes both of these communities. As an autistic transgender young adult, I feel privileged to be a coauthor of research that puts the voices of autistic and gender-diverse youth at the forefront. By giving these youth control over their own narratives, this study exemplifies a key value of the self-advocate community: Nothing about us, without us!”

Cara Lichtenstein

Children’s Community Health Track receives prestigious APA Teaching Program Award

Cara Lichtenstein

“As a community-focused health system, one of our central missions is to train a new generation of residents to create successful community partnerships and integrate public health concepts into the everyday practice of medicine to improve the health of underserved communities,” says Cara Lichtenstein, M.D., MPH.

The Children’s National Community Health Track (CHT) has been recognized by the Academic Pediatric Association with its prestigious Teaching Program Award. The honor was made public at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting on May 7, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario. The purpose of the award is to foster interest in the teaching of general pediatrics by giving national recognition to an outstanding general pediatric program. The PAS selection committee chose Children’s CHT for demonstrating excellence in educational teaching methods, acceptance by the community, its adaptability and the outstanding quality of residents trained in the program.

“As a community-focused health system, one of our central missions is to train a new generation of residents to create successful community partnerships and integrate public health concepts into the everyday practice of medicine to improve the health of underserved communities,” says Cara Lichtenstein, M.D., MPH and director of Children’s Community Health Track.

Children’s CHT focuses on underserved populations and the development of skills in health policy, advocacy and community healthcare delivery. Residents spend their outpatient time learning to use public health techniques to identify and address community health needs, becoming a physician advocate and learning more about the sociocultural determinants of health and health disparities. Training for CHT is integrated with Children’s overall pediatrics residency program to ensure excellence in attainment of clinical skills, and to allow residents the opportunity to work with Children’s top-rated primary care, specialty and hospital-based physicians and care teams.

This is the third time in recent years that Children’s National has been honored by the Academic Pediatric Association. In 2013, Mary Ottolini, M.D., MPH and vice chair of medical education was recognized for her leadership of Children’s Master Teacher Leadership Development program. In 2009, Denice Cora-Bramble, M.D., MBA accepted the APA Health Care Delivery Award for the Goldberg Center for Community Pediatric Health at Children’s National.

Children’s offers up to eight residency positions each year designated as Community Health Track positions. The goals of the track are centered on the core competencies of community pediatrics as described by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Primarily to train residents to:

  • Grasp the breadth of diversity inherent in the pediatric population and be familiar with health-related implications of cultural beliefs and practices of groups represented in the community.
  • Recognize the role of the pediatrician in identifying needs and facilitating access to resources for patients, families and communities.
  • Be aware of the risks to health and barriers to care for underserved children in Washington, D.C., and demonstrate skill in improving access to continuous comprehensive health maintenance.
  • Appreciate key issues related to the pediatrician’s role and interactions with local community agencies and advocacy groups.
  • Value the role of schools and childcare settings in supporting the educational and psychosocial development of children and adolescents.
  • Apply key principles about health promotion and disease prevention for children and adolescents over a set period of time.
  • Observe, interpret and report observations about the communities in which they serve.

The fundamental difference in this track compared to the more traditional Categorical Track lies in the outpatient experiences that occur in all three years of training. The CHT utilizes these outpatient experiences to help residents to attain a well-rounded community pediatrics experience.

“Washington, D.C. is an incredibly diverse community with large numbers of vulnerable children and families from D.C. and all over the world. Given our location in our nation’s capital, residents and faculty have the unique opportunity to work with national professional and advocacy organizations that are influencing policy – both locally and nationally – as it relates to children, families and health care,” says Mark Weissman, M.D., chief of general pediatrics and community health at Children’s National. “We’re thrilled to be recognized with the Academic Pediatric Association’s Teaching Program Award and grateful to Dr. Lichtenstein for her leadership and commitment to improving the health of D.C.’s children and training the next generation of pediatricians and advocates.”

Research and Education Week awardees embody the diverse power of innovation

cnmc-research-education-week

“Diversity powers innovation” was brought to life at Children’s National April 16 to 20, 2018, during the eighth annual Research and Education Week. Children’s faculty were honored as President’s Award winners and for exhibiting outstanding mentorship, while more than 360 scientific poster presentations were displayed throughout the Main Atrium.

Two clinical researchers received Mentorship Awards for excellence in fostering the development of junior faculty. Lauren Kenworthy, Ph.D received the award for Translational Science and Murray M. Pollack, M.D., M.B.A., was recognized in the Clinical Science category as part of Children’s National Health System’s Research and Education Week 2018.

Dr. Kenworthy has devoted her career to improving the lives of people on the autism spectrum and was cited by former mentees as an inspirational and tireless counselor. Her mentorship led to promising new lines of research investigating methods for engaging culturally diverse families in autism studies, as well as the impact of dual language exposure on cognition in autism.

Meanwhile, Dr. Pollack was honored for his enduring focus on motivating early-career professionals to investigate outcomes in pediatric critical care, emergency medicine and neonatology. Dr. Pollack is one of the founders of the Collaborative Pediatric Critical Care Research Network. He developed PRISM 1 and 2, which has revolutionized pediatric intensive care by providing a methodology to predict mortality and outcome using standardly collected clinical data. Mentees credit Dr. Pollack with helping them develop critical thinking skills and encouraging them to address creativity and focus in their research agenda.

In addition to the Mentorship and President’s Awards, 34 other Children’s National faculty, residents, interns and research staff were among the winners of Poster Presentation awards. The event is a celebration of the commitment to improving pediatric health in the form of education, research, scholarship and innovation that occurs every day at Children’s National.

Children’s Research Institute (CRI) served as host for the week’s events to showcase the breadth of research and education programs occurring within the entire health system, along with the rich demographic and cultural origins of the teams that make up Children’s National. The lineup of events included scientific poster presentations, as well as a full slate of guest lectures, educational workshops and panel discussions.

“It’s critical that we provide pathways for young people of all backgrounds to pursue careers in science and medicine,” says Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., Children’s chief research officer and CRI’s scientific director. “In an accelerated global research and health care environment, internationalization of innovation requires an understanding of cultural diversity and inclusion of different mindsets and broader spectrums of perspectives and expertise from a wide range of networks,” Gallo adds.

“Here at Children’s National we want our current and future clinician-researchers to reflect the patients we serve, which is why our emphasis this year was on harnessing diversity and inclusion as tools to power innovation,” says Mark L. Batshaw, M.D., physician-in-chief and chief academic officer of Children’s National.

“Research and Education Week 2018 presented a perfect opportunity to celebrate the work of our diverse research, education and care teams, who have come together to find innovative solutions by working with local, national and international partners. This event highlights the ingenuity and inspiration that our researchers contribute to our mission of healing children,” Dr. Batshaw concludes.

Awards for the best posters were distributed according to the following categories:

  • Basic and translational science
  • Quality and performance improvement
  • Clinical research
  • Community-based research and
  • Education, training and program development.

Each winner illustrated promising advances in the development of new therapies, diagnostics and medical devices.

Diversity powers innovation: Denice Cora-Bramble, M.D., MBA
Diversity powers innovation: Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D.
Diversity powers innovation: Mark L. Batshaw, M.D.

Promoting diversity and inclusion in pediatric academic medicine

Mary Ottolini

Mary Ottolini, M.D., M.P.H., ME.d., highlighted the Academic Pediatric Association’s efforts to promote more diversity and inclusion within pediatric academic medicine.

Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges on faculty promotion show a very low percentage of diverse assistant professors being promoted to associate professors, and a low percentage of diverse associate professors rising through the ranks to become full professors within academic medicine. Mary Ottolini, M.D., M.P.H., ME.d., vice chair for Medical Education at Children’s National Health System, professor of pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and president of the Academic Pediatric Association (APA) addressed this problem at the recent Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting. In her presentation, “APA approach to diversity-inclusion,” Dr. Ottolini explained various APA initiatives in place to assist underrepresented minority (URM) residents, fellows and junior faculty to advance academically in pediatric medicine.

The APA’s core value and strategic goal for diversity and inclusion is to increase diversity and engagement of its membership. To execute this initiative, New Century Scholars was created in 2004 as a national mentorship program to increase racial and ethnic diversity of academic pediatric medicine. The two-year program collaborates with the American Pediatric Society and utilizes junior and senior mentors to provide support to our URM residents with a special interest in health disparities, social determinants of health, cultural competency and minority child health and development.

Dr. Ottolini believes, “it’s important for our URM faculty to have early, strong mentorship that provides an idea of what it takes to be academically successful, by networking and collaborating with others.” She went on to say, “By forming these collaborations, they can transform an idea into a project that will be published, which strengthens their ability to achieve promotions.”

Research Academic Pediatrics Initiative on Diversity (RAPID), is another APA national program working to recruit, retain, and provide career development for diverse junior faculty in general academic pediatrics that are pursuing careers in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases mission areas. RAPID targets applicants who are members of an underrepresented minority group and are disabled or from a socially, culturally, economically or educationally disadvantaged background.

“Diversity and inclusion is an issue that is important for patients and the field of academic pediatrics because we need to have a physician workforce that resembles the patient population that we are entrusted to take care of,” Dr. Ottolini says.

Dr. Ottolini also explained APA’s current special interest groups were put in place to bring awareness to the role of race in the practice of medicine, and to provide resources by which members can support the healthy development and optimal care for U.S. youth of color. The ultimate goal is to develop strategies for increasing diversity and retention among academic medical faculty across the United States, and develop best practices for caring for youth of color in the primary care setting.

The presentation concluded with a question-and-answer session and further discussion from the audience. Since her presentation, Dr. Ottolini has received offers from other doctors and national organizations to fund these initiatives.