Autism Medical Home Tailors Services to Sensitive Needs of Patients on Autism Spectrum

Medical appointments used to be challenging for Tiffany Lisboa. With 4-year-old twins Gabriel and Xavier Salazar both on the autism spectrum, check-in lines, waiting room noises and other overstimulation made doctor’s visits difficult.

That changed when she learned about the Autism Medical Home and Consultation Program at Albany Medical Center.

“I was thrilled,” said Lisboa. “The wait is minimal. They don’t go through crowded halls. There’s a ‘secret passageway’ that they go through that they love.”

The Autism Medical Home, the first of its kind in the region, serves the unique medical needs of patients with autism in a sensory-friendly environment, along with consultative services for families of children and teens with autism. It is a patient-centered, team-based, comprehensive program designed to provide a safe, familiar space at the Medical Center for pediatric patients with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Providers and staff are trained in creating a comforting environment that reduces stress and anxiety; they also provide consultive services for families of children and teens whose primary care team seeks additional expertise to help them care of these patients.

“As a parent of a 12-year-old son with autism, I know how challenging it can be to bring a child with autism to a medical appointment. Simply sitting still in the waiting room with other patients and parents can become a nerve-wracking experience,” said Carrin Schottler-Thal, MD, medical director of the Autism Medical Home. “We have given great thought and care in developing a program tailored toward the child’s sensitive needs.”

Lisboa said that Dr. Schottler-Thal’s experience as a parent of child with autism gives her a unique perspective to treat her sons. “She is well informed and knows on a personal level. She is always very attentive and gives good advice,” said Lisboa. “I recommend the Autism Medical Home for any parent that needs a better solution that some may not understand.”

Melissa Doyle, PhD, LCSW-R, program director of the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and Jennifer Meyerhoff, LMHC, program coordinator, Autism Medical Home, joined Dr. Schottler-Thal in providing their clinical expertise. Additional services include mental health counseling, parent management training and linkage with community-based resources, including assistance with enrolling for services through the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). Providers and staff also provide information and guidance on autism-related health and wellness issues, including toileting, feeding, behavioral issues and sensory concerns.

In addition, the Autism Medical Home offers a multidisciplinary clinic, allowing a “one-stop shop” approach for patients to see several pediatric specialists, including gastroenterologists and feeding experts. The clinic occurs the fourth Thursday of each month at 391 Myrtle Ave., Suite 3B, Albany, with hourly appointments available from 1 to 4 p.m.

The clinic sees patients up to age 21, with the goal to assist individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in transitioning to adult-focused health care; it also includes support for parents who have adolescents or young adults who are transitioning to adulthood.