Local Orthodontist’s Research Helps Treat Autistic Children

EAST NORTHPORT, New York, July 17

BY: Andrew Wroblewski

Robert Schindel has been practicing orthodontics for nearly half of his life. Since 1990, the 49-year-old has been working out of his East Northport office with his father, Samuel Schindel.

But recently, the Huntington native started to look at his field a bit differently. He started to do things that he’d never done before, researching a project that is now known as “Behavior Modification of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in an Orthodontic Setting” – and it’s a hit.

“I was particularly excited, not just for personal reasons, but because the project would be given better exposure,” Schindel said of his research, which was featured on the cover of the Journal of Clinical Orthodontics in May. “This is really not a matter of dentistry; it’s a matter of opening peoples’ eyes to the potential of being able to treat patients with special needs better than we had previously thought… We just have to work harder at it.”

Robert Schindel, an East Northport orthodontist, had his research project featured on the cover of May’s Journal of Clinical Orthodontics.
Robert Schindel, an East Northport orthodontist, had his research project featured on the cover of May’s Journal of Clinical Orthodontics.

The origins of the project stretch back to Schindel’s involvement with a longtime friend whose daughter, Michelle, is autistic.

Michelle was in need of orthodontic treatment, but procedures, such as the application of braces, have been known to cause trouble for children with autism.

But Schindel didn’t let that stop him; Michelle did.

“I’ve known Michelle since she was born,” Schindel, who now lives in Northport, said. “I thought that performing orthodontics with her would be easy, but it wasn’t – I couldn’t even examiner her.”

After the failed attempt, Schindel sought to drill deeper.

“I went to the Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism (NSSA) in Commack – which Michelle attended – and worked with her teachers who taught me a technique used when treating children with autism,” Schindel said of the school located on Hauppauge Road. “They taught me that autistic children learn better visually and that, by using a series of pictures to demonstrate a procedure, they might be more comfortable undergoing treatment.”

In order to test the procedure with Michelle, Schindel took a series of photographs as he applied braces to Michelle’s sister.

Afterwards, walking her through with the pictures, Schindel performed the same procedure on Michelle.

The process is called “applied behavior analysis,” and it worked.

“After that we wanted to spread the information of our success,” Schindel said. “But today the only way to get information out to the medical community is through journals so we came up with the idea of the project.”

In conjunction with the NSSA, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and the Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine – where Schindel has taught since 1994 – the research project began with what Schindel described as, “a wonderful team to work with.”

“I have to thank my amazing research team,” Schindel said – mentioning Nina Anderson of Harvard; one of his graduate students at Stony Brook; and the people at NSSA. “Following this method may not be a sure-fire answer, but it’s a tool that practitioners can use to treat kids with autism – a tool that makes everything much easier than just traditional ways of behavioral management.”

Schindel’s work is some of the first of its kind in the field of orthodontics and the orthodontist believes he’s just scraping the top when it comes to research.

To help get to the root of it all, Schindel is starting work on a new project.

“We’re working on a follow-up project that was just recently approved by Stony Brook and Harvard and seeks the parental perspective on the barriers of dental care for autistic children,” Schindel said. “With the original project we were really trying to figure out how to best treat children with autism, but with the follow up we’re trying to get parents’ opinions on what barriers there are in administering this care and what can be done to make things easier.”

Originally published: Long Islander News: The Record (Thursday, July 17, 2014;  A13)


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