By Daniel Dunaief
On April 17, Tamara Rosen did something she had been anticipating for six years: she defended her graduate thesis.
Working in the lab of Matthew Lerner, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry & Pediatrics in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook University, Rosen had focused her efforts on the symptoms people with autism exhibit when they are anxious or depressed.
While the questions in her graduate thesis defense followed a pattern she anticipated, with professors asking her about the way she compiled her data and the conclusions she drew, the format wasn’t what she had expected.
Like so many other gatherings that had formerly been public events, Rosen’s thesis defense was broadcast by Zoom. The downside was that she wasn’t in the room with everyone, where she could have a discussion one on one. The upside was that her friends and family could tune in as easily as they do to work calls or other family gatherings. Indeed, Rosen’s mother, Marna; her step-mother Eve; and her father Dennis, all of whom share an appreciation for the work Tammy did for her thesis, watched the defense from start to finish, exulting in a landmark achievement.
“This was a really important day in our family’s history,” Dennis Rosen told his daughter, sharing the pride he felt for her.
“I always knew you were smart, but now I know you are brilliant,” her mother beamed.
After the call, Rosen saw her mother and stepmother overwhelmed with emotions, shedding tears for an achievement she sometimes needs to reassure herself really happened.
Rosen’s work focused on how anxiety and depression, two conditions that mental health professionals are concerned are becoming more prevalent amid the viral pandemic, have different symptoms in the population of people with autism spectrum disorder than they do for those who are not on the spectrum.
Based on prior research, Rosen wanted to account for the different symptoms in her follow-up analysis.
Prior studies have found that the traditional models of anxiety and depression do not adequately fit youth with autism. Others had suggested, but not tested, the notion that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual model of these symptoms provides an ineffective model of anxiety and/or depression symptoms because of the influence of autism symptoms.
That is why Rosen specifically examined the influence of autism on these conditions in one of her analyses.
Among other findings, Rosen said that autism influences anxiety and depression. The prevalence of anxiety and depression is higher compared to the general population.
There are a range of clinical implications for her work, Rosen said.
Her work validates what clinicians are doing, which is to take the profile of autism into account when they treat anxiety.
Rosen moved to Colorado last July to start her internship year at JFK Partners at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where she is also starting her post-doctoral clinical fellowship. She is treating clients with autism and anxiety and depression, which she said is in her “wheel house” of expertise.
Rosen is grateful for the support she received from Lerner and the program at Stony Brook. “It was great training,” she said.