Education Through Autism

Trying to fit in can be a real challenge for autistic children. They may want to be social but lack the necessary skills. Or they may be happy to go it alone but feel tremendous pressure from family and school to be more social. Physician and researcher Alexander Kolevzon, MD, discusses his efforts to help autistic children and their families as well as ongoing research to improve therapeutic approaches. A second interview, with Marli Marinelli, mother of an autistic child, provides an insider’s view of parenting an autistic child.


[00:00:00] Stephen Calabria: From the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, this is Road to Resilience, a podcast about facing adversity. I'm Stephen Calabria. On today's episode, in celebration of April being Autism Awareness Month, we welcome Alex Kolevzon, M. D.

[00:00:17] Dr. Kolevzon is a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics and the clinical director of the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

[00:00:28] In his role as clinical director, Dr. Kolevzon oversees groundbreaking clinical research and treatment for children, adolescents, and adults with autism. We'll also be joined by Marlee Marinelli, a mother and caregiver of a young son with autism. But first, we're honored to welcome Dr. Kolevzon to the show.

[00:00:49] Dr. Alex Kolevzon, welcome to Road to Resilience, sir.

[00:00:53] Dr. Alex Kolevzon: Thank you very much, it's good to be here.

[00:00:54] Stephen Calabria: Could you give us a brief overview of your background?

[00:00:57] Dr. Alex Kolevzon: Let's see, I was born in Mount Sinai Hospital. True story. I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist. I did my training here. I'm the Clinical Director of the Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai.

[00:01:10] My focus is on better understanding the biology that underlies autism and then using that understanding to develop better and more targeted treatments.

[00:01:18] Stephen Calabria: Could you tell us, what is autism?

[00:01:22] Dr. Alex Kolevzon: Autism is a collection of behavioral features that include social and communication problems and restricted and repetitive behaviors, childhood onset neurodevelopmental disorder.

[00:01:34] Stephen Calabria: What role does resilience play in the overall well being and quality of life of individuals with autism, and how would you say it influences your approach to their care?

[00:01:46] Dr. Alex Kolevzon: Ooh, I love that question. That's a question I've never been asked before. So let's see, resilience. So I think about resilience actually in terms of parents resilience, right?

[00:01:55] I saw a parent yesterday, in fact, who was able to reflect on how grateful she felt for her child, who is. profoundly disabled. And the reason that she felt so grateful is because it allowed her to look at the world with a different perspective.

[00:02:13] And I think some of the things that might bother you or me didn't necessarily penetrate her, her threshold for irritation. I think she's sort of naturally resilient.

[00:02:23] You know, I think a parent who brings that perspective to the experience of raising a child with special needs, was probably born with some degree of resilience. I see the kids who have varying degrees of impairment also have varying degrees of sort of temperamental characteristics.

[00:02:41] So some kids can be very agitated, very aggressive, very self injurious. And other kids can be very, very calm. And so whether that reflects resilience in the child or resilience in the parents, I'm not so sure.

[00:02:55] But I do find that the parents who are most able to kind of rise to the challenge that they face in raising these kids and can kind of come to them with a perspective of acceptance for sure.

[00:03:08] And, probably some degree of resilience, despite all the challenges. You know, those kids tend to have a better quality of life, as do their parents.

[00:03:18] Stephen Calabria: How many children and adults have autism? And how many new cases are discovered each year?

[00:03:25] Dr. Alex Kolevzon: Well, if you rely on the Centers or Disease Control in the United States, the answer to that question is somewhere around 1 out of 36 kids are diagnosed with autism. That is probably a significant overestimate but we like to think about, about 1 percent of the population has autism.

[00:03:45] Stephen Calabria: When was autism first really brought into the public consciousness? mean, if I watch movies from the 40s, don't see a lot of people with autism.

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