Meet Our Clinicians
Throughout Autism Awareness Month, the Center for Autism Research is highlighting stories from the families and professionals that make up our autism community at the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. For this issue, we interviewed three clinicians to gain insight into how they provide care for individuals on the autism spectrum, how they provide guidance and support for parents, and what led them to choose a career supporting patients with ASD, and what they find most rewarding about their profession. Today, meet:
Alyssa Rosen, MD – Dr. Rosen is a pediatric neurologist in the Division of Neurology at CHOP, specializing in the care of children with autism and epilepsy-related disorders.
Carissa Jackel, MD – Dr. Jackel is a developmental pediatrician with the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Jennifer Maldarelli, PhD – Dr. Maldarelli is a psychologist with the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
As a clinical provider, what kind of care do you provide to children and families with autism?
Dr. Rosen - I provide initial diagnostic assessment and ongoing follow up in my role as part of the Autism Integrated Care program and for patients who I follow through the Division of Neurology. I also provide neurologic consultation for children with autism who are referred to me by colleagues in other specialties when neurologic concerns arise.
Dr. Jackel - As a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, I do diagnostic evaluations with children and their families to help determine appropriate diagnoses and recommend behavioral, educational, and social supports and services. I also follow children over time to monitor their progress, give advice on behavioral or educational challenges that arise, and also do medication management to help with some of the associated disorders that often co-occur with autism spectrum disorder.
Dr. Maldarelli- As a psychologist I provide diagnostic evaluation services for families who suspect their child may have autism, as well to families of children with autism who suspect their child may have co-occurring conditions, such as ADHD or intellectual disability (ID) in addition to ASD. These evaluations help parents understand where their child’s difficulties stem from so that they can then appropriately intervene. This means that I spend a great deal of my time talking with parents in addition to directly working with kids.
Families are the primary source of support for children with autism, and therefore it’s critically important that parents accurately understand their child’s challenges and the recommendations I give them. This means that I also spend a lot of time working with school personnel, such as teachers and school psychologists, and other treatment providers, such as ABA providers or speech therapists, to make sure that children are getting the right educational supports and outpatient services. Generally, when I say to someone, “I’m a psychologist and I work with kids with autism”, most people think that I spend all day with kids. While I do spend a good amount of time working with kids directly, a really big part of my job is supporting those who support kids with autism. Kids on the spectrum benefit tremendously from coordinated care, and so I put a lot of effort in to supporting families, teachers, and therapists, to indirectly provide support for my patients.
Why did you decide to go into clinical care and work with children with autism?
Dr. Rosen- I thrive on the face to face interactions and ongoing relationships with patients and families and have been fascinated and excited by ASD for as long as I can remember. I love that no two patients with ASD are the same and that unexpected things happen in my clinic every day.
Dr. Jackel- In college, I worked at a summer day camp with a young girl with autism spectrum disorder. She and her family opened up my eyes to many of the joys but also the struggles of living with autism spectrum disorder. I realized over that summer that working with children and families who have children with developmental disabilities was my passion and I have wanted to devote my work to helping these children and families live their best lives
Dr. Maldarelli - I’ve been interested in child development for a long time. I worked as a babysitter, daycare aide, and camp counselor when I was in high school, and come from a large family with a lot of young kids. I have always been fascinated by how some developmental processes are similar across children and how other processes can be so different. When I first began working clinically with kids on the spectrum in college, I became interested in how autism could present challenges in some domains of development but lead to gifts and strengths in other domains. I also have family members with autism myself, and for this reason autism is near and dear to my heart. I feel incredibly lucky to now be in a place where I have clinical capacity to help children with autism and their families.
What do you find most exciting about the work you do?
Dr. Rosen - I enjoy the challenge and thrill of connecting to children with ASD by meeting them where they are, even if that connection is fleeting.
Dr. Jackel- I feel honored and humbled every day as families let me into their lives, so we can all work together to help their children succeed and blossom. I love seeing the progress that the children make. Every sound, word, interaction, etc. is progress that should be celebrated
Dr. Maldarelli- I’m very passionate about the process of differential diagnosis. I enjoy helping families figure out what often times feels like a big puzzle, because I think that diagnostic clarity is the foundation for determining appropriate services and interventions.
What do you want people to know about autism?
Dr. Rosen - That no two patients are alike and to expect the unexpected.
Dr. Jackel - Autism spectrum disorder is not bad. It is just different. People with autism spectrum disorder may think about things in a different way, but that does not mean they are wrong or that we have to change their way of thinking. Our goals for all of our children are to help give them the tools they need to succeed, so that they are able to accomplish whatever it is they want to as they grow up. Children with autism spectrum disorder are no different from that.
Dr. Maldarelli- Every child with autism is different. This is why comprehensive assessments and individualized treatment plans are so important. I also want people to know that since children with autism sometimes perceive and think about situations in a unique manner, I think there is a lot that we can learn from them.
Over the course of your career, what is the important lesson learned or guiding principle?
Dr. Rosen - I've learned that the most rewarding encounters occur when I bring something personal into my clinical interactions and carry away something new each time.
Dr. Jackel - I have learned to celebrate the little things. We all have big dreams, but each of those dreams is accomplished through many little goals.
Dr. Maldarelli- Every child and every family is different. My clinical practice is guided by that principle, and I strive every day to meet each family where they are and help them get where they need to go.