Dr. Melissa Anderson-Chavarria, Medical Anthropology

Melissa Anderson-Chavarria smiling in front of a mosaic wall

Dr. Melissa Anderson-Chavarria is a dual degree DO and PhD student and finished her PhD in 2021 under the mentorship of Dr. Linda Hunt. Dr. Anderson-Chavarria’s dissertation, “Forgotten Families of the Sea and Sun: An Ethnography of Autism in Puerto Rico,” focuses on autism families in a setting whose history and socio-economic situation bears little resemblance to North America and Europe, where most studies of autism have been conducted. Dr. Anderson-Chavarria presents a thorough review of existing autism models and management strategies, and provides a rich overview of the Puerto Rican historical and socio-economic context that challenges current autism approaches. 

Based on extensive participant observation and interviews with autism families, caregivers, and professionals, Dr. Anderson-Chavarria presents a far-reaching analysis of life with autism in Puerto Rico. In particular, she examines conceptualizations of autism, causal theories and their impact on vaccination decision-making, language practices and ideologies, and creative resource navigation. Her work thus provides deep insight into the limitations of existing approaches to autism. Dr. Anderson-Chavarria’s dissertation documents the creative adaptations of these families, while highlighting the need to expand research on pressing health issues to include marginalized communities and countries. This work will inform management approaches and public policy to address the unmet needs of those too often ignored and forgotten.

Dr. Anderson-Chavarria is currently working on converting her dissertation into a more widely accessible book format along with publishing her research in academic and clinical journals. She will spend the next two years completing her clinical medical education and plans to pursue medical residency in 2023. Her areas of interest include pediatric neurology, neurosurgery, and global health.

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