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Teens With Autism Educate Future Doctors At Boston University

BOSTON (CBS) - It's a unique medical school class designed to increase awareness of patients with autism and other intellectual disabilities. And today's teachers were two teenagers, both on the autism spectrum.

"I'm 13 years old. I'm in eighth grade. I really, really like otters, and I have ADHD and a tiny bit of autism," says Hana.

She and her 15-year-old sister Helen have come to a Boston University Medical School classroom to talk with third year students. Both girls are on the autism spectrum, and are ready for any and all questions.

"Anything! I'm not going to be upset," Helen says.

Hana and Helen
Hana (L) and Helen (R) speak to Boston University medical students (WBZ-TV)

It's part of an innovative program developed by the Arc of Massachusetts called Operation House Call.

"This is huge. This means they're really seeing our patients as people, and not just a diagnosis," says Maura Sullivan who runs the Arc program.

"We teach medical students how to enhance care for people with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities," she says.

That's important because for some people with disabilities, even finding a doctor is difficult. This program aims to break down that barrier by teaching future doctors to get to know their special patients and find ways to reach and treat them.

Medical students
Boston University medical students (WBZ-TV)

"It's important that people who are going to become doctors know about disabilities because they're a real thing in the world. And also that they know we're kids, too," Hana says.

And after a lively conversation, it has made a difference. "I think it helps by giving me a different perspective," says student Clark Yin.

"It's completely different putting a face to what we're learning in our biology and physiology classes," adds Andrea Alonso.

It doesn't end there. The next step is for each medical student to make a house call, to a family where one member is dealing with a disability. That makes the experience even more powerful.

Operation House Call works at Boston University, Tufts, UMass Medical and Simmons graduate school of nursing.

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