January 13, 2022


by: admin


Tags: Bench, conversation, Kristin, Sohl, Spectrum


Categories: autism

Past the Bench: A dialog with Kristin Sohl | Spectrum

Kristin Sohl

professor, University of Missouri

Kristin Sohl learned early on how to access community resources designed to help families through tough times when she had her first child when she was 19.

“I was a preschool student with no income,” she says. “My husband had just graduated from college, was just starting his masters and was working full-time as a pharmacy technician. We had a combined family income of about $19,000 and needed help.”

Now a pediatrician, she shares what she learned back then with other families—particularly autistic children, who make up the majority of her practice.

Most pediatricians lack training in identifying and treating autism, says Sohl, a professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Missouri at Columbia. To fill this gap, in 2015 she founded ECHO Autism, a virtual learning network that connects physicians and other healthcare professionals with autism specialists around the world. She is also Principal Investigator for the Autism Care Network, a group of 20 centers across North America that provide care, collect and share data, and conduct research for people with autism.

Sohl recently told Spectrum why pediatricians need to know about autism, why a “sponsor” is better than a “mentor,” and how Pokémon Go is helping her refresh.

spectrum: How did you decide to become a pediatrician?

Kristin Sohl: When I was 7 years old I broke my arm and had to spend the night in a hospital. My roommate there was in a car accident and had extensive burns all over her body. Seeing your resilience and joy despite the pain really moved me. Since then I have never strayed from my passion of being a doctor. Fast forward a decade or so, and I got a scholarship to medical school when I was in high school. I decided to become a pediatrician because I love how much children teach us through their innocence.

S: What did you learn about autism in medical school?

KS: To be honest, I didn’t learn anything about autism in medical school. It’s one of the reasons I’m so committed to getting doctors and clinicians to learn more so we can reduce the stigma associated with developmental disabilities and autism. Most pediatricians don’t understand what autism looks like in its broad spectrum. If one of them says, “No, I don’t think that’s autism,” that child’s outcome is totally affected.

S: What does a typical day look like for you?

KS: My day starts with getting up at 6 a.m. and arriving. I’m usually out of the house by 7:10 am to take my daughter Isabella to school and then I head to Panera for some rest and ice tea. I go to my first meetings or clinics around 8:30 am. No day is the same. Some days I plan new Missouri programs and work on budgets, while other days I start international partnerships and recruit families for studies. Or I plan our next training session to involve more people in the ECHO autism movement, or plan how to improve the health of Missouri’s child population. I spend much of my free time brainstorming with colleagues and thinking about what we can do to fill in the gaps we see every day.

S: Do you have a mentor?

KS: I have a few sponsors when I think of them. Sanjeev Arora, a hepatologist at the University of New Mexico, founded Project ECHO to provide effective treatment for hepatitis C to patients in sparsely populated areas of New Mexico. Now there are ECHOs for pain, HIV, COVID-19, cancer. We were the first to apply it to autism.

He and Susan Hyman are the two who paved the way for me and were my cheerleaders and guides through many experiences. Susan is a developmental behavior pediatrician at the University of Rochester in New York, founding chair of the Autism Subcommittee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the godmother of autism in pediatrics.

The way I see it, a mentor might give you a bit of advice here and there, but a sponsor says “That would be good for you” and connects you. They see what you want to achieve and they help you make it happen.

S: How is your family?

KS: My husband David and I have two children: Alexander, 23, and Isabella, 13. They are my favorite people. David grounds me, Alexander is the kindest soul I know, and Isabella pushes me to be my wild self and stay authentic every day.

And i love cats. I have three – Diego, Percy and Roni. you watch tv with me Roni is technically my big cat but I claimed him when my son moved home during the pandemic.

portrait of dr  Kristin Sohl in a field, in the late afternoon light, with a large black and white portrait of her children.

S: When and where are you most productive?

KS: I’m most productive in a busy airport or in a crowded coffee shop. I love being in the thick of things with headphones on and no one really knows who I am.

S: What do you listen to while working?

KS: Music definitely – I love contemporary Christian rock, Billie Eilish and 80’s music. Podcasts are great too. I usually listen to “Dare to Lead” with Brené Brown or another leadership podcast on the way to work.

S: Are you a reader?

KS: Yes! I love reading really good psychological thrillers, but right now I’m reading two non-fiction books: Harvard Business Review’s Time Management and Patrick Lencioni’s The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.

S: What do you do to relax?

KS: I enjoy watching true crime and psychological thrillers on TV such as You and playing games such as Spades and The Settlers of Catan. I also play Pokemon Go (a virtual mobile game) with my best friend who is also a pediatrician. I got my husband involved too. I love it. It keeps me busy while I walk and move. My brain is usually “on” so constantly that I go home very soon if I’m just going for a walk because I can’t stop thinking about things I need to do. With Pokémon Go, I can just totally enjoy the world around me.

Cite this article: https://doi.org/10.53053/QHBE6894


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