My First Weeks at the Center for Autism Research

This summer, I am interning at The Center for Autism Research, a center of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania that brings together a multidisciplinary team of psychologists, developmental pediatricians, neurologists, and more to discover new ways to improve the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The specialists do this by investigating the underlying causes of ASD, developing precise treatments, and supporting those with ASD and their families by providing resources and education.

As I began my summer internship experience almost 2 weeks ago now, I was so excited to continue the work I had done for the Center for Autism Research (also known as CAR) as a volunteer in high school. It was great reconnecting with researchers I had worked with as well as receiving updates about the projects I had assisted with previously and learning about the new directions of the work. Also, I enjoyed exploring the new office space at the recently built Robert’s Center for Pediatric Research.

I spent most of my time in the past few weeks in training, preparing to assist in the research process once again. I began by completing many online modules administered by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia according to their protocol. Next, I reviewed the research protocols for two main projects that I will be working on, one about how children with autism respond to their individual names and the second observing males with Creatine Transporter Deficiency. The first project uses a mobile app created by CAR to collect data about how children with autism respond to their individual names and how this differs from children with developmental delays and from typically developing children. This app brings research opportunities to underrepresented populations since only a subset of individuals, who are mostly affluent and Caucasian, are able to journey to the center in Philadelphia to participate in research. The goal is that following participation in the app study, these specific underrepresented people will be identified and will have the opportunity to receive future diagnoses and services. The second study, the Creatine Transporter Deficiency study, aims to differentiate individuals with CTD from individuals with autism spectrum disorder since many individuals are misdiagnosed. Figuring out where along the progression of visits with doctors and assessments with clinicians this happens will allow for proper diagnoses as well as proper treatment for individuals that are currently not receiving suitable care. I am very excited to begin making my impact on these projects!

I also spent much of my time these first few weeks reading up on some of the newest research going on about detection and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. One article about early detection in infants through the use of brain scans is linked here. Another article about community health clinics detecting autism in adults previously diagnosed with psychosis and other various disorders can be found here (this article was written by my supervisor!).

My goals moving forward for the rest of the summer are academic as well as career and personal. I have a baseline of knowledge from the previous experiences at CAR and my biology and psychology courses at Brandeis; however, I would like to build on this knowledge and better understand the underlying causes of autism in addition to innovative treatment plans for individuals with ASD through the current research. As for career and personal goals, I wish to explore various career options and future paths that are available following graduation from Brandeis. I have already begun working on this goal by attending weekly meetings in which a research assistant, a graduate student, or another researcher at CAR speaks about their experiences and specific interests and gives some advice to individuals interested in their respective fields.

I am excited to continue pursuing these goals as well as assisting in research projects in the coming weeks and can’t wait to see where this experience takes me!

Tali Rychik, ’19’