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Howell and Sender Pilot Project

Equipping Medical Professionals to Reduce Treatment Related Anxiety and Increase Treatment Procedural Understanding for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder Receiving Cancer Treatment


Howell Sender

Erica Howell, Ph.D.
CSU Fullerton

Leonard Sender, M.D.
UC Irvine
Diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), at present, include qualitative impairments in communication, social interaction, and
restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities (American Psychiatric
Association [APA], 2000). To ameliorate the effects of this disorder in school and home settings, many
evidence-based interventions have been designed to increase situational understanding, reduce problem
behaviors, teach pro-social behaviors, and facilitate communcation (Rogers & Vismara, 2008). Strangely,
little has been done to extend the use of these interventions to medical-based settings.

With the prevalence of ASD now estimated at one in 50 people (Blumberg, Bramlett, Kogan, Schieve, Jones,
& Lu, 2013), one may expect all medical professionals to encounter patients with ASD and related disorders
at some point in their practice; however, doctors report feeling unequipped in issues related to ASD-RD
(Finke, Drager, & Ash, 2010). Although research has yet to substantiate the experiences of children with
autism receiving cancer treatment and the professionals working with them, given the increased prevalence
of ASD-RD and the fact that cancer does not discriminate between children with and without ASD-RD (Blatt,
Deal, & Mesibov, 2010), it is likely that medical professionals in the field of pediatric oncology encounter
patients with ASD-RD and need related training on supporting these special children. This pilot project aims
to address this need by equipping pediatric oncology medical professionals in best practices for working with
children with ASD-RD.

A research investigation will be enfolded into an in-service professional development training to: (1) guage
the efficacy of the training, (2) monitor training outcomes, and (3) learn about pediatric oncology medical
professionals' experiences with children with ASD-RD.

This study will look at how well a training program works to increase the knowledge about autism and its
related disorders in a group of doctors, nurses, and other health workers that provide care to children with
cancer. The findings of this study will help design new tools to be used in the future to help reduce the
increased anxiety and fear that children with autism may face when they are treated for other illnesses.