Long before autism became a household word, Abha R. Gupta, MD, PhD, was fascinated by a one-page article about the condition she randomly encountered in a news magazine.
“I was intrigued and struck by how autism affects some of our most human abilities, such as social relatedness and abstract language,” recalls Dr. Gupta, who at the time was pursuing her doctorate degree in neuroscience. “I didn’t know anyone with autism, so my interest came from a neuroscientist’s perspective.”
That interest drove Dr. Gupta to specialize in developmental-behavioral pediatrics. Then she began researching the genetic links to autism. Over the years, she has developed great respect for parents and families of children with the condition. “I appreciate how difficult this diagnosis is for families,” Dr. Gupta says. “My inability to give parents clear answers as to what causes autism, because of the state of the science, motivates me and provides a sense of urgency to do autism research in the lab.”
As the attending physician in the Fast Track Autism Clinic at Yale Medicine, Dr. Gupta evaluates children (ages 18 months to 5 ½ years old) to determine whether they meet criteria for autism. She particularly enjoys using play sessions with children as a way to detect delays or disabilities. “What other pediatric specialty can claim to be more fun?” asks Dr. Gupta, who is an assistant professor of pediatrics (general pediatrics) at Yale School of Medicine.
The hardest part of her job, she says, is telling parents that their child has autism. “It is often emotionally draining for everyone involved,” she says, adding that she balances the diagnosis by bringing attention to a child’s strengths, too. “They are not defined by their disability. I tell parents they are doing great by their child by bringing them to our clinic so we can determine the diagnosis and come up with a plan of action. I emphasize that we are here to help advocate for their child. They should never feel alone navigating the school system or service agencies to ensure they receive all the help they need.”