SJU, Jefferson joint program trains health care workers to be more 'autism aware'

Lynne Adkins
February 03, 2020 - 5:00 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Two Philly-area universities are joining forces to train physicians to become more sensitive to the needs of people with autism. 

Millions of Americans are on the autism spectrum, and that number is continuing to grow, according to Dr. Joseph McCleery, assistant professor of psychology at Saint Joseph’s University. 

Unfortunately, the number of health care professionals who are trained to help people with autism has not grown to match the amount of patients.
“We know from research that the medical homes for this population are not very good,” McCleery said. “There's a lot of research showing that medical doctors are not that autism-aware and they're not aware of the greater needs of the individuals or their families, and also the medical environments where they're served are not necessarily sensitive to their social needs, their communication needs, their sensory needs.”

Saint Joseph’s is teaming up with Thomas Jefferson University to fill that need.

Students at Saint Joseph’s who are studying autism behavioral studies will get preferential treatment for a program at Jefferson’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College. The program is for students in their junior year who plan to enter medical school after graduation.

If accepted, students can take part in a six-week summer research program on the subject, and they will take part in other research opportunities under McCleery.

He said it’s a great way to help an underserved population.

“It allows us to actively recruit and train undergraduate students who want to go to medical school, specifically to become medical doctors, to serve individuals with autism and their families,” he added, “and we know that there's a huge need for this. there are a lot more people on the autism spectrum than there were a decade ago because of increased sensitivity to diagnosis.”