Behavioral Health

family with child in wheelchair

The psychosocial needs of children with rare diseases

family with child in wheelchairA special issue of the journal Children, guest-edited by Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., clinical health psychologist at Children’s National Hospital, features a compilation of articles from a diverse group of professionals. The authors share their expertise on topics related to psychosocial considerations for children and adolescents living with rare diseases.

Co-edited by Lori Wiener, Ph.D., of the National Cancer Institute, the special issue contains articles addressing the psychosocial, neuropsychological and educational needs these children face as well as the impact on their family, friends and community.

According to Lyon and Wiener, “Living with a long-term medical condition, particularly if it is a rare disease, can have a profound impact on the lives of children and their caregivers. Our goal is to update readers on evolving research in the field and familiarize them with useful clinical knowledge and interventions.”

The issue contains 13 peer-reviewed manuscripts from around the globe, including Asia (Taiwan), Australia, Europe (Germany, Italy, Sweden, and Netherlands) and the United States. The following were authored by experts from Children’s National:

Read the full issue of Psychosocial Considerations for Children and Adolescents Living with Rare Diseases.

Paper cutouts of silhouette

Successful autism and ADHD tools go digital

Paper cutouts of silhouette

A team is working to implement a successful, evidence-based online training and tele-support system for the Unstuck and On Target (UOT) program.

A team from Children’s National Hospital, Children’s Hospital Colorado and The Institute for Innovation and Implementation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore is working to implement a successful, evidence-based online training and tele-support system for the Unstuck and On Target (UOT) program. The program is now available for free to any parent or educator who needs it.

What is it?

Since 2020, this team has piloted UOT video training with 293 school-based staff across 230 elementary schools in Colorado and Virginia. The work follows a related PCORI-funded research project, Improving Classroom Behaviors Among Students with Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, led by Children’s National and Children’s Colorado researchers. That project demonstrated the effectiveness of UOT at improving the executive functioning – or self-regulation skills including flexible thinking, planning and emotional-control – of school-aged children in Title 1 schools. The training focuses on the executive function of elementary school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In addition to creating more accessible training for educators, the team created short, free videos highlighting executive functioning tips and tricks that parents can employ at home. These videos, evaluated by 100 parents and revised based on their input, are now available to parents nationwide.

The availability of this training is possible due to a $2 million contract awarded to Children’s Hospital Colorado’s (Children’s Colorado) Pediatric Mental Health Institute and Children’s National by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) in 2020.

Why it matters

There are many children, including those in low-income or rural settings, that don’t have access to clinics that offer services to support executive functioning skills, such as planning and flexibility, that they need. But all children have access to a school. Now, UOT training is online and accessible so any school with internet access can offer UOT where school staff (including special educators, teachers, paraprofessionals and counselors) can actively teach students how to plan, set goals and be flexible. The team’s next goal is to create a comparable video training for the high school version of UOT.

“These free, accessible and effective tools for improving children’s social-emotional development are building skills that are more important today than ever,” said Lauren Kenworthy, Ph.D., director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National. “The vast majority (96%) of caregivers and educators found these tools useful and relevant. That feedback is a testament to our team’s efforts to make sure these resources were created and validated as usable, approachable and actionable for everyone who needs them.”

More information

For educators – Find resources on Unstuck and On Target, including links to the free trainings, tips and tricks and FAQs. Teachers can also receive continuing education credits (CEUs) for this training.

For parents – Find resources on Unstuck and On Target’s parent training videos

For schools – Add free Unstuck and On Target parent videos to your school district’s relevant websites, landing pages and newsletters.

Paper cutout of head with brainwaves

Lifesaving ICDs can cause anxiety, stress, PTSD for parents and kids

Paper cutout of head with brainwaves

Research shows that children with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, and their parents, are at risk for anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological distress.

Recent advances in design and efficiency of implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) have led to their increased use in younger patients, protecting more children with congenital heart disease from sudden cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death, says a commentary in the journal Heart Rhythm. However, living longer with these devices and the day-to-day worry that they may have to deliver a lifesaving shock in the blink of an eye, may cause unusually high rates of anxiety, stress and other psychosocial distress for children with ICDs and their families.

Commentary authors Vicki Freedenberg, Ph.D., RN, electrophysiology nurse scientist, and Charles Berul, M.D., chief of cardiology, both from Children’s National Hospital, note that current available research shows both children with these ICDs and their parents are at risk for anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psychological distress. They highlight a new study published in the same journal that reports data related to prevalence and factors associated with PTSD in children with ICDs and their parents as a good start to better understanding these impacts.

Why it matters

Freedenberg and Berul say that the new study adds important information to an area without a lot of previous research. They also point out that understanding the long-term impacts of life with these devices is critical to ensuring the overall long-term health and wellbeing of both the children with these devices and their families.

What’s been the hold-up in the field?

The development of devices that work for younger children with congenital heart disease, including advances in ICDs and pacemakers, has increased in the last decade. In this time, studies of how these devices work for children have focused predominantly on clinical outcomes and questions related to clinical care.

As survival rates for children have increased, research needs to shift from the study of mortality and clinical outcomes toward understanding the full spectrum of how these devices impact daily life for these children and their families.

Moving the field forward

According to Freedenberg and Berul, the new study importantly includes both patient and parent perspectives, which is a first in this research area. They also offer recommendations for future studies, including the use of comparison groups to allow for generalization of findings. Researchers might also ask research questions to determine whether the device itself or the medical and non-medical factors that often occur simultaneously are more important to predicting mental health and wellbeing.

However, the commentary concludes with the most important takeaway: More research, with specific parameters focused on the impact of clinical interventions, is desperately needed to truly understand all the ways that children and their families are affected throughout life by the clinical care and support they receive.

Read the full commentary, Potential for shock leads to potential for stress, in the journal Heart Rhythm.

Mother helping son check blood sugar levels

Supporting parents and children through diabetes diagnosis

Mother helping son check blood sugar levels

Behavioral intervention can improve parents’ mood following their child’s diabetes diagnosis.

Results from a new study show that behavioral intervention improved parents’ mood following young children’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

The study evaluated First STEPS, a stepped-care behavioral intervention designed to support parents’ psychosocial functioning and promote children’s glycemic outcomes. Results indicated likely benefits of parent coach support, supplemented by intervention intensifications, including behavioral intervention and diabetes education.

“We found that parent coaches, or parents of slightly older children with Type 1 diabetes who were trained in offering peer support, were helpful in reducing parent depressive symptoms up to one year and a half following diagnosis for parents in the stepped care group,” says Randi Streisand, Ph.D., C.D.C.E.S., Psychology and Behavioral Health division chief at Children’s National Hospital and senior author of the study. “The second study target, child glycemic control, was not significantly different between the two groups.”

What’s been the hold-up in the field?

There are unique challenges facing families of young children with Type 1 diabetes. However, typical care and management guidelines are not specific to young children.

“Many parents of children diagnosed with diabetes experience distress and symptoms of depression, yet parents are not routinely screened during clinic visits,” Dr. Streisand says. “Further, there are many barriers to mental health support.”

Moving the field forward

Findings also highlighted the potential for training lay people who have a shared lived experience (parent coaches), which could be incorporated into clinical programs.

Most behavioral interventions use behavioral health experts. The study’s experts demonstrated significant outcomes in parent mood by using parent coaches.

“The goal would be to incorporate parent coach programs into the clinic setting, to either offer the support to all families at the time of diagnosis or to screen families and provide support to those in need,” Dr. Streisand adds.

The authors affirm this model has high potential for patient engagement. Additionally, results showed that incorporating targeted behavioral support for intensive diabetes treatment may maximize intervention impact.

Other Children’s National authors include: Carrie Tully, Ph.D.; Christine Wang, Ph.D.; Lauren Clary, Ph.D.; Fran Cogen, M.D.; John Barber and Celia Henderson.

You can read the full study First STEPS: Primary Outcomes of a Randomized, Stepped-Care Behavioral Clinical Trial for Parents of Young Children With New-Onset Type 1 Diabetes in Diabetes Care.

Tired student studying online on laptop at home

Headache disorders and mental health worsened during pandemic

Tired student studying online on laptop at home

Children’s headaches and mental health worsened during pandemic, new study finds.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many pediatric patients who suffer from headaches have experienced more frequent headaches and worsening anxiety and mood, and a new study finds links to stress, decreased physical activity and increased screen time.

The findings, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, showed that elevated stress associated with disruptions to daily life, social distancing practices and anxiety about the threat of illness to oneself and others brought on by the pandemic impacted the quality of life for kids with headache disorders.

“These findings are really impactful to me as a physician and a parent. It is important we gain a better understanding about how stress and changes in routine affect children’s wellbeing and mood,” says lead author Marc DiSabella, D.O., director of the Headache Program at Children’s National Hospital. “Things like moving to a virtual environment may have resulted in feelings of isolation and anxiety for kids, and increased screen time may have played a role in more frequent headaches.”

Migraine and other headache disorders are exceedingly common in adolescents and children. For this study, 107 patients completed a questionnaire from summer 2020 to winter 2021 examining changes in headache characteristics and lifestyle factors since the start of the pandemic. The survey found:

  • Pre-pandemic, 60% of patients reported having headaches less than 15 days of the month. After the start of the pandemic, that number dropped to 50%.
  • Patients reporting constant daily headaches went from 22% pre-pandemic to 36% after the start of the pandemic.
  • 49% of patients reported their headaches had worsened since the onset of the pandemic.
  • 54% of patients reported that their physical activity levels decreased because of the pandemic.
  • When asked about screen use during the pandemic, 61% of patients reported using screens for more than six hours a day.

The authors of the study note that whether or not increased screen time worsens headaches has not yet been clearly established; however, patients and families routinely cite screen use as a headache trigger. Lack of physical exercise is also often cited as a migraine trigger.

“Having a headache every day, all the time, with no break in sight, is really frustrating to children and their parents,” Dr. DiSabella adds. “They just want to be a normal child, yet have no control over when the pain increases, and they suddenly are unable to do simple activities like reading a book or seeing friends, which adds to the uncertainty of their future.”

Participants also reported worsened anxiety, mood and workload. According to the authors, this is likely to affect headache patients given their elevated rates of anxiety and depression.

“We already know that patients with headache disorders have disproportionately high rates of mood complaints, including anxious and depressive symptoms,” Dr. DiSabella says. “The fact that our patients reported this worsened during quarantine is an additional stress on their already complex lives, managing pain, school and extra-curricular activities.”

While the study is limited by sample size and observational design, future population-based studies will further explain the impact of this pandemic on kids who suffer from headaches. In the interim, Dr. DiSabella recommends parents talk with their children about how the pandemic has impacted their headaches and mood. He also recommends offering children help, either at home or with a professional trained in child psychology.

boy getting vaccinated

Adolescents with ADHD more hesitant to get COVID-19 vaccine

boy getting vaccinatedAdolescents with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) report greater hesitancy and less confidence in COVID-19 vaccine safety compared to adolescents without ADHD, a new study finds.

For all adolescents in the study, those who identified as Black or Latino — and came from families with lower income levels — were more likely to be vaccine hesitant and report lower confidence in the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

Whereas greater COVID-19 concerns, compliance to social distancing guidelines, media use and perceived negative impact of COVID-19 on relationships was associated with greater vaccination willingness.

The study, led by Melissa Dvorsky, Ph.D., director of ADHD & Learning Differences Program at Children’s National Hospital, also highlighted that:

  • Adolescents with ADHD who engage in large gatherings indoors are at greater risk for vaccine hesitancy.
  • Interventions should target social-cognitive processes for adolescent vaccination.

“Adolescents with ADHD being more vaccine hesitant is perhaps in part due to core risk mechanisms associated with ADHD, likely impacting planning, motivation and execution of vaccination, adolescents’ risk appraisal, and perceived susceptibility to COVID-19,” Dr. Dvorsky said. “Our study also found key social mechanisms predicted increased vaccine acceptance and uptake, and these factors should be leveraged in ongoing initiatives addressing vaccine uptake among teens.”

Findings have important implications for health and mental health providers and educational strategies aimed at promoting COVID-19 vaccinations in adolescents.

Earlier this month, Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Health announced amplified efforts to encourage families to vaccinate youth ahead of the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, sending a message that students must get caught up on vaccinations over the summer. In addition to expanding access to vaccination services, a concerted effort, Dvorsky added, is needed to increase trust, confidence, motivation and social relevance among adolescents. This is especially true for those with ADHD and from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

“As health and mental health care providers, we are uniquely positioned to offer effective communication using strong, presumptive language with all adolescents in our community to address vaccine hesitancy. Adolescents with ADHD, in particular, can benefit from frequent behavioral ‘nudges’ (such as prompts or reminders, automatic appointments) and social/motivational strategies (such as social network interventions, peer-delivered approaches, motivational interviewing) to increase vaccine uptake.”

It’s important to note that research addressing adolescent COVID-19 vaccination willingness and readiness remains scarce.

The study included 196 adolescents (87 male) ages 16-18 from two sites in the Southeastern and Midwestern United States. Participants were high school students in 11th and 12th grade during the 2020-2021 school year. Participants came from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, with 21% of families falling below the 2019 U.S. median household income ($68,703). Approximately half of the participants were comprehensively diagnosed with ADHD prior to COVID-19.

US News Badges

Children’s National named to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll

US News BadgesChildren’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., was ranked No. 5 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report 2022-23 Best Children’s Hospitals annual rankings. This marks the sixth straight year Children’s National has made the list, which ranks the top 10 children’s hospitals nationwide. In addition, its neonatology program, which provides newborn intensive care, ranked No.1 among all children’s hospitals for the sixth year in a row.

For the twelfth straight year, Children’s National also ranked in all 10 specialty services, with seven specialties ranked in the top 10.

“In any year, it would take an incredible team to earn a number 5 in the nation ranking. This year, our team performed at the very highest levels, all while facing incredible challenges, including the ongoing pandemic, national workforce shortages and enormous stress,” said Kurt Newman, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Children’s National. “I could not be prouder of every member of our organization who maintained a commitment to our mission. Through their resilience, Children’s National continued to provide outstanding care families.”

“Choosing the right hospital for a sick child is a critical decision for many parents,” said Ben Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News. “The Best Children’s Hospitals rankings spotlight hospitals that excel in specialized care.”

The annual rankings are the most comprehensive source of quality-related information on U.S. pediatric hospitals and recognizes the nation’s top 50 pediatric hospitals based on a scoring system developed by U.S. News.

The bulk of the score for each specialty service is based on quality and outcomes data. The process includes a survey of relevant specialists across the country, who are asked to list hospitals they believe provide the best care for patients with the most complex conditions.

The seven Children’s National specialty services that U.S. News ranked in the top 10 nationally are:

The other three specialties ranked among the top 50 were cardiology and heart surgerygastroenterology and gastro-intestinal surgery, and urology.

Dr. Limperopoulos talks to a mom

Pandemic-related stressors in pregnant women affect fetal brain development

Dr. Limperopoulos talks to a mom

Dr. Catherine Limperopoulos walking with a mom.

Prolonged levels of stress and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to altering key features of fetal brain development — even if the mother was not infected by the virus. This is what a study published in Communications Medicine suggests after following more than 200 pregnant women. The study, led by Children’s National Hospital experts, emphasized the need for more scientific inquiry to shed light on the long-term neurodevelopmental consequences of their findings and COVID-19 exposures on fetal brain development.

“Understanding how contemporary stressors may influence fetal brain development during pregnancy has major implications for basic science and informing public policy initiatives,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., chief and director of the Developing Brain Institute at Children’s National and senior author of the study. “With this work, we are able to show there’s a problem, it’s happening prenatally, and we can use this model to start exploring how we can reduce stress in moms and support unborn babies.”

To better understand the effects of environmental exposures on the fetus during pregnancy, further confirmation of the team’s latest findings is needed by ruling out other possibilities, such as maternal nutrition, financial security and genetic factors.

The psychosocial impact of COVID-19 on fetal brain development remains vastly understudied. The neurologic underpinnings of fetal development that turn into psycho-behavioral disorders later in life, including bipolar disorder, mood disorder or anxiety disorder, remain complex and difficult to explain.

Among the 202 participants from the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, 137 were part of the pre-pandemic cohort and 65 were part of the pandemic cohort.

Through advanced MRI imaging techniques and reconstruction of high-resolution 3D brain models, the researchers found a reduction of fetal white matter, hippocampal and cerebellar volumes and delayed brain gyrification in COVID-19 pandemic-era pregnancies. Validated maternal stress, anxiety and depression scales were also used to compare the scores between the two cohorts.

This study builds upon previous work from the Developing Brain Institute led by Limperopoulos, which discovered that anxiety in pregnant women appears to affect the brain development of their babies. Her team also found that maternal mental health, even in high socioeconomic status, alters the structure and biochemistry of the developing fetal brain, emphasizing the importance of mental health support for pregnant women.

“We’re looking at modifiable conditions,” said Limperopoulos. “What’s clear is the next frontier is intervening early to see how we can prevent or reduce stress in the mom’s current setting.”

pregnant woman by window

Stress during pregnancy may hinder cognitive development

pregnant woman by window

This is the first study to shed light on an important link between altered in-utero fetal brain development and the long-term cognitive development consequences for fetuses exposed to high levels of toxic stress during pregnancy.

Women’s elevated anxiety, depression and stress during pregnancy altered key features of the fetal brain, which subsequently decreased their offspring’s cognitive development at 18 months. These changes also increased internalizing and dysregulation behaviors, according to a new study by Children’s National Hospital published in JAMA Network Open. Researchers followed a cohort of 97 pregnant women and their babies. The findings further suggest that persistent psychological distress after the baby is born may influence the parent-child interaction and infant self-regulation.

This is the first study to shed light on an important link between altered in-utero fetal brain development and the long-term cognitive development consequences for fetuses exposed to high levels of toxic stress during pregnancy. While in the womb, the researchers observed changes in the sulcal depth and left hippocampal volume, which could explain the neurodevelopment issues seen after birth. Once they grow into toddlers, these children may experience persistent social-emotional problems and have difficulty establishing positive relationships with others, including their mothers. To further confirm this, future studies with a larger sample size that reflect more regions and populations are needed.

“By identifying the pregnant women with elevated levels of psychological distress, clinicians could recognize those babies who are at risk for later neurodevelopmental impairment and might benefit from early, targeted interventions,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., chief and director of the Developing Brain Institute at Children’s National and senior author of the study.

Catherine Limperopoulos

“By identifying the pregnant women with elevated levels of psychological distress, clinicians could recognize those babies who are at risk for later neurodevelopmental impairment and might benefit from early, targeted interventions,” said Catherine Limperopoulos, Ph.D., chief and director of the Developing Brain Institute at Children’s National and senior author of the study.

Regardless of their socioeconomic status, about one of every four pregnant women suffers from stress-related symptoms, the most common pregnancy complication. The relationship between altered fetal brain development, prenatal maternal psychological distress and long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes remain unknown. Studying in utero fetal brain development poses challenges due to fetal and maternal movements, imaging technology, signal-to-noise ratio issues and changes in brain growth.

All pregnant participants were healthy, most had some level of education and were employed. To quantify prenatal maternal stress, anxiety and depression, the researchers used validated self-reported questionnaires. Fetal brain volumes and cortical folding were measured from three-dimensional reconstructed images derived from MRI scans. Fetal brain creatine and choline were quantified using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The 18-month child neurodevelopment was measured using validated scales and assessments.

This study builds upon previous work from the Developing Brain Institute led by Limperopoulos, which discovered that anxiety in pregnant women appears to affect the brain development of their babies. Her team also found that maternal mental health, even for women with high socioeconomic status, alters the structure and biochemistry of the developing fetal brain. The growing evidence underscores the importance of mental health support for pregnant women.

“We’re looking at shifting the health care paradigm and adopting these changes more broadly to better support moms,” said Limperopoulos. “What’s clear is early interventions could help moms reduce their stress, which can positively impact their symptoms and thereby their baby long after birth.”

mother and daughter embracing

Understanding end-of-life treatment preferences for adolescents

mother and daughter embracing

FACE-TC effectively increases communication between adolescents with cancer and their families about the patients’ preferences.

Talking about death and dying is taboo. Some families believe it is their role alone to make end-of-life healthcare decisions or they may believe pediatric advance care planning is against their religion.

In a recent trial, Maureen Lyon, Ph.D., a clinical health psychologist at Children’s National Hospital and lead author of the study, analyzed the value of high-quality pediatric advance care planning and how this enabled families to know their adolescents’ end-of-life treatment preferences.

This is the first fully powered randomized controlled trial to focus on adolescents with cancer and their engagement with their families in pediatric advance care planning conversations.

What this means

Some physicians believe it is not their role to discuss the “what ifs.” Others report that they do not have the training or time to do so. As a result, in clinical practice, adolescents living with a serious illness rarely have documented advance care plans. The default is to provide intensive treatments that potentially increase suffering.

“Despite cancer being the leading cause of disease-related death in adolescents, conversations about goals of care and documentation of end-of-life care and treatment preferences for adolescents with cancer are not a routine and standard part of care,” Dr. Lyon said.

Why it matters

Family-centered advance care planning for teens with cancer (FACE-TC) effectively increases communication between adolescents with cancer and their families about the patients’ end-of-life preferences. This meets the first challenge of pediatric advance care planning – knowledge of patient’s preferences.

This low-tech intervention commits to more deeply respecting adolescents with cancer, integrating them into health care decision-making and giving them some control in a low control situation.

The patient and family benefits

“FACE-TC strengthens communication between adolescents with cancer and their families about adolescents’ understanding of their illness, their hopes and fears, their goals of care and their end-of-life treatment preferences,” Dr. Lyon added. “With increased access to palliative care services and pediatric advance care planning, families may better understand that stopping intensive medical interventions when their child is dying is not giving up, but rather choosing how best to spend the final days of one’s life.”

Dr. Lyon and the team at Children’s National have pioneered this effort to give seriously ill adolescents a voice and help families break the ice so they know what their child would want if the worst were to happen. The team also aims to provide an extra level of support for busy clinicians so the first conversation about goals of end-of-life care does not happen in the intensive care unit.

You can read the full trial, An Intervention in Congruence for End-of-Life Treatment Preference: A Randomized Trial, in Pediatrics.

You can also read the last manuscript from this clinical trial, Effect of the Family-Centered Advance Care Planning for Teens with Cancer Intervention on Sustainability of Congruence About End-of-Life Treatment Preferences, in JAMA Network.

girl looking at her phone

TikTok could be causing rising cases of tic-like behaviors

girl looking at her phone

Many teenagers who viewed a high number of Tourette syndrome TikTok videos during the COVID-19 pandemic started portraying similar tic-like behaviors.

The impact of social media on children is once again front and center. During the pandemic, experts noticed the increase in functional tic-like disorders and suggested an association with the rise in popularity of social media videos on TikTok. Many teenagers who viewed a high number of Tourette syndrome (TS) TikTok videos during the COVID-19 pandemic portrayed similar tic-like behaviors.

In a new study published in Pediatric Neurology, experts analyzed the 100 most-viewed videos under #tourettes on the media platform. The authors found the symptoms  portrayed as TS on viewed TikTok videos are an inaccurate representation of TS and are more consistent with functional tic-like behaviors.

“Tourette syndrome symptoms portrayals on highly-viewed TikTok videos are predominantly not representative or typical of Tourette syndrome,” says Alonso Zea Vera, M.D., neurologist at Children’s National Hospital and lead author of the study.

“Although many videos are aimed at increasing Tourette syndrome awareness, I worry that some features of these videos can result in confusion and further stigmatization,” Dr. Zea Vera says. “A common cause of stigmatization in Tourette syndrome is the exaggeration of coprolalia (cursing tics) in the media. We found that many videos portrayed this (often used for a comedic effect) despite being a relatively rare symptom in Tourette syndrome.”

There have been recent discussions about the accuracy of current social media videos of TS. This study highlights the importance of mentioning the source of the medical information and providing guidance. Children’s National has one of the largest movement disorders teams in the U.S. that is trained to differentiate TS from functional tic-like disorders.

“This differentiation can be challenging but important since the treatment is different,” Dr. Zea Vera adds. “Both of these conditions can be very impairing for patients.”

You can read the full study ‘The phenomenology of tics and tic-like behavior in TikTok” here.

Shideh Majidi

Shideh Majidi, M.D., M.S.C.S, brings focus on psychosocial research in diabetes patients to Children’s National

Shideh Majidi

Dr. Majidi specializes in Type 1 diabetes and has been involved in innovative research studying behavioral and psychosocial aspects of health care such as anxiety, depression and suicide and improving high-risk patient management for children with the disease.

Children’s National Hospital welcomes Shideh Majidi, M.D., M.S.C.S., as the new associate director of the Childhood and Adolescent Diabetes Program. Dr. Majidi specializes in Type 1 diabetes and has been involved in innovative research studying behavioral and psychosocial aspects of health care such as anxiety, depression and suicide and improving high-risk patient management for children with the disease.

Dr. Majidi comes to Children’s National from the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes where, in addition to providing clinical care in the Pediatric Diabetes Division, she was the assistant professor of pediatric endocrinology, head of the depression screening and high-risk task force committees, developer and director of an online class for children managing their Type 1 diabetes and a member of several committees focusing on program evaluation and residency and fellowship recruitment.

When Andrew Dauber, M.D., M.M.Sc., took over the role of division chief of Endocrinology, his goal was to create a clinical endocrinology research program to provide cutting-edge treatment for families. Dr. Dauber is excited to have Dr. Majidi bring her expertise to the team to further this goal. “Dr. Majidi has played a key role in national cooperative research on quality improvement in pediatric diabetes care and is now leading an international collaborative focused on preventing suicide in individuals with Type 1 diabetes,” says Dr. Dauber. “Her compassion, intellect and commitment to improving care for all children with diabetes is an inspiration to us all.”

Dr. Majidi will continue to serve in her roles as site co-lead for Type 1 Diabetes Exchange Quality Improvement Collaborative, where she recently led a 2021 study exploring inequities in access to and outcomes of health care for those with Type 1 diabetes, and  co-chair for RESCUE, which aims to reduce suicide rates among individuals with diabetes.

She is dedicated to meeting patients and families where they are to help provide the best care. “We may think we see a lack of effort in diabetes care from patients and families, but we need to reframe our mindset and dig deeper to determine what barriers are in the way of diabetes management– behavioral, psychosocial or otherwise,” says Dr. Majidi. “When we do this, we can then work on how to help families manage and overcome the barriers that affect their diabetes care.”

Hands holding letters that spell autism

Increasing access to autism spectrum disorder services through enhanced training

Hands holding letters that spell autismMany service providers struggle to keep pace with advances in autism-specific knowledge and tend to refer children to autism specialty clinics when the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is in question. Unfortunately, it is in these settings where children most often wait for months or, worse, experience barriers to accessing any care at all. This has resulted in an access crisis for children and families with ASD concerns contributing to delays in diagnosis and treatment, particularly for children of color and for under-resourced families. Service disruptions and challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic have only added to delays. As the need for autism-related services continues to grow, innovative models must be used to enhance competence among frontline medical, behavioral health and community-based providers who currently serve these children and families on a regular basis.

Children’s National Hospital has initiated a number of endeavors focused on increasing access to ASD services through enhanced training experiences, mentorship of allied mental health and frontline professionals and utilization of multidisciplinary approaches. These approaches enhance the skills and knowledge of treatment providers, which allows them to accurately address the needs of autistic patients while they await more comprehensive evaluations and sometimes reduce the need for additional evaluation. The following are efforts currently underway.

Virtual ECHO (Extension Community Healthcare Outcomes) Autism Clinics

The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders (CASD) is hosting virtual ECHO (Extension Community Healthcare Outcomes) Autism Clinics aimed at building autism knowledge and competencies amongst community providers by creating shared learning forums with a multidisciplinary group of autism specialists for dissemination of knowledge and mentorship.

Clinics run in 6-month sessions on a bimonthly basis and target professionals in medical, community and educational/early intervention settings. There is no requirement for prior autism-related knowledge or training. The emphasis in learning stems from case-based discussions primarily, along with targeted autism specific didactics.

We have found good satisfaction with the program overall, as well as self-report of gains in ASD-specific knowledge and care competencies as a result of participation in ECHO. To date, CASD’s ECHO Autism program has reached 290 professionals and trainees serving autistic children and their families.

Integration of autism evaluations into primary care sites

The Community Mental Health (CMH) CORE (Collaboration, Outreach, Research, Equity) within the Children’s National Hospital Child Health Advocacy Institute (CHAI) has been working collaboratively with several other divisions, including CASD, to integrate autism evaluations into primary care sites for young children with high concern about ASD. We aim to increase capacity and access to autism services by training embedded psychologists in primary care settings in autism diagnostics.

By increasing behavioral health provider capacity and integrating in primary care, this clinic has been able to drastically decrease waits for ASD services by months to years. Families served by the program were predominately Black (81%) or Latinx (10%), and most (87%) had public insurance. Nearly one third (32%) were not primary English speakers. An ASD diagnosis was provided in 68% of all cases.

All referring PCPs surveyed indicated that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the program, that they “strongly like the integrated clinic model,” and that the program “is increasing equitable access to ASD. Currently, CHAI-supported ASD-focused embedded clinics in primary care have served 94 children and their families.

2021 neurology infographic

2021 at a glance: Neurology and Neurosurgery at Children’s National

2021 neurology infographic

3d render of brain form

LEND program to support physicians with interdisciplinary training for NDD and ASD

3d render of brain form

In a time with dearth of specialties, LEND will train allied health professionals, parent advocates and self-advocates, provide continuing education and technical assistance, research and consultation while preparing professionals for leadership roles in the provision of health and related care.

A new program at Children’s National Hospital, known as The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND CN), will provide interdisciplinary training to enhance clinical expertise and leadership skills while reducing the shortage of medical specialists — a hurdle also present nationwide. Participating institutions such as Children’s National Hospital, Howard University and University of the District of Columbia will enhance the care for children and families with neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD), including autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The program seeks to improve the health of infants, children and adolescents with or at risk for NDD and related disabilities. LEND CN will also prepare future leaders in this space that offer a comprehensive support tailored to a child’s specific condition.

“There are very few opportunities for training a broad multidisciplinary team to work with and provide leadership in the neurodevelopmental and autism space,” said Andrea Gropman, M.D., neurodevelopmental pediatrics and neurogenetics division chief at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of the LEND CN program. “This grant funding will allow the LEND CN leadership and curriculum team to develop innovative training and leverage community resources, universities and institutions to provide a broad, diverse and inclusive training.”

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded the program with $2,200,000. The funding will help develop, implement, evaluate and innovate the curriculum and experiential activities of LEND CN. These efforts will be led by Dr. Gropman and Anne Pradella Inge, Ph.D., clinical director of the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Children’s National Hospital and LEND educational content director.

In a time with dearth of specialties, LEND will train allied health professionals, parent advocates and self-advocates, provide continuing education and technical assistance, research and consultation while preparing professionals for leadership roles in the provision of health and related care.

“We have a broad multidisciplinary team of specialists in developmental pediatrics, neuropsychology, speech and hearing, and other allied health specialists,” Dr. Gropman said, adding that Children’s National is uniquely positioned to participate in this grant opportunity. “This grant is exciting because it allows us to take advantage of the full potential the D.C. area has to offer to establish comprehensive and individualized training.”

Many of the trainees of this program remain local and in the field of developmental disabilities and autism, while many others also have risen to leadership positions. Some who have completed the program return as LEND educators to the next generation of trainees, proving the many doors this program can open for those seeking a career in neurodevelopmental pediatrics and work that intersects with developmental disabilities and their families.