Advancing autism-related psychiatric training in India
Vikram Dua, MD, FRCPC, says the online course he is launching in Developmental Psychiatry will bring relief to hundreds of autistic individuals and their families in India.
Over three years, Dr. Dua’s project, Advanced Virtual Fellowship in Developmental Psychiatry for Indian Medical Specialists, will provide nine doctors (developmental pediatricians, psychiatrists or neurologists) with training in the core competencies of Developmental Psychiatry. Partnering with leading Canadian centres such as Surrey Place and Community Living Toronto, and with support from a 2022 International Development, Aid and Collaboration (IDAC) grant, the fellowship will provide live observership opportunities for trainees to learn psychiatric diagnostic and therapeutic skills for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The result will be better quality of life for autistic individuals and their families in India.
“The impact of this project will be to significantly increase the capacity of developmental physicians within three years,” says Dr. Dua. ASD affects close to two per cent of the population and more than half of individuals with ASD experience psychiatric comorbidities. “These comorbidities exert significant influence on development and behaviour and are often the key predictor of long-term functional outcome.”
More than a decade of experience and experimentation
Since the early 2000s, Dr. Dua has taught Developmental Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto. In 2010, he began to travel and volunteer in India to expand understanding of the psychiatric aspects of autism. However, in low- and middle-income countries such as India, access to psychiatrists with specialized expertise is rare outside of a few leading medical centres.
In 2019, to help address the shortage of skilled clinicians for youth and adults with ASD who have complex presentations and psychiatric comorbidities, Dr. Dua founded the Indo-Canadian Autism Network (I-CAN). I-CAN developed an intensive, in-person training workshop, which it ran in Hyderabad, India in 2020. But the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced Dr. Dua’s team to rethink their approach – ultimately bringing the training online. The success of I-CAN’s Complexity Seminar, led online monthly by Dr. Dua and attended by more than 50 participants from across India, serves as the proof of concept for Dr. Dua’s IDAC-funded project.
Virtual learning enriched by in-person sessions
Furnished with this rich background of success, Dr. Dua and his colleagues are using much of their IDAC funding to develop a reliable training platform and infrastructure. Funding will also enable each participating fellow to spend four to six weeks in Canada to complete complementary in-person training.
Dr. Dua also plans to make the program generative by supporting participants’ independent projects, such as seeking additional, specialized training in areas like improving pre-school interventions with children who have ASD.
“I’m excited about this project, as the need is clearly present, and the outcomes we’re working toward are actually doable,” says Dr. Dua. “I can see how within three years we could have a direct impact on many families. The value of being able to see that transition in real time as a clinician is so powerful.”