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A new Penn program aims to address the lifelong effects of autism.

Psychiatry professor Edward Brodkin has started Penn Behavioral Health’s Adult Autism Spectrum Program to address the problems that surround adult care for patients with autism.

“These kids with autism are growing into adulthood … there’s a real need for some form of clinical care and services for adolescents and adults with autism,” Brodkin said.

Brodkin created the program with the goal of working with adolescents and adults with autism to help them optimize appropriate treatment plans, medication intervention and promote overall positive well-being.

“Once people with autism hit age 22, we have very little in the way of services, supports and entitlements,” David Mandell, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at Penn, said. “We’re just at the beginning stages of understanding what adult services should look like.”

The program is based on a consultation model, with Brodkin seeing patients and families for in-depth consultations. After the meetings, he provides them with feedback, recommendations and referrals. The consultations help to address any problems the families may have regarding medication, diagnosis, coordinating treatment and issues pertaining to the transition to adulthood.

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Brodkin has personally seen between 12-15 patients since the program started in the summer, and he hopes to put together a larger team and broaden the scope of the program.

“I would like to build it up over time to provide more [psychiatric] care within the program,” Brodkin said.

Although there is a lot of research in the area of behavioral treatment for children with autism, the research surrounding these interventions for adults is scarce.

Research in this field is more focused on medication treatments for adults and many tend to forget that behavioral treatments can be just as successful as well, Mandell said.

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Brodkin hopes to look into this area and do more research surrounding behavioral interventions as part of the adult autism program.

“My particular interest is in helping adults with autism improve their social behavior functioning, so coming up with both psychological and behavioral treatments … to improve social cognition and skills and apply them to everyday life,” Brodkin said.

The adult autism program is also a part of a clinical partnership with the Center for Autism Research, according to Robert Schultz, director of the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Patients who come in for testing at the center can referred to the program and vice versa, creating an integration of research and intervention.

“The fact that the clinic is embedded in other works makes it that much stronger and viable for the long run,” Schultz said.

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