Not everyone is in a comfortable spot when put in a public setting. Those unusual social skills, repetitive behaviors, odd speech and nonverbal communication can all be signs of autism, a developmental disorder that affects nearly one in sixty-eight children in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). April is Autism awareness month, which helps us to find and promote new ways in which we can better accommodate and care for people in our communities with this disorder.
Autism is a genetic disease with a range of conditions characterized by the behaviors previously mentioned. The disorder is identified by a chromosomal change, but there is a lot about the disease that is unknown. SUNY is hard at work both providing services to those in need and conducting research with the hope of finding new information that could lead to better care for those affected.
SUNY Upstate Medical University has developed a new test to diagnose autism in children. This test, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), uses saliva gathered from a mouth swab, making it is easy to conduct and non-invasive. Saliva contains microRNA, short strands of ribonucleic acid (RNA) which may affect how a child’s brain works. Researchers say finding microRNA particles with altered levels in children with autism could lead to an earlier diagnosis. The test can be administered on children ages 18 months to 6 years old who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or have many of the developmental delays associated with the disorder.
Upstate Medical conducts this test regularly as part of its ongoing research activity. Those that are interested can sign up to participate online.
The Center for Autism and Related Disabilities at the University at Albany (CARD Albany) brings research and practice together for autism-affected individuals. The center offers both training initiatives and programs for families, schools, and professionals along with clinical care services like evaluations and behavioral support programs. Efforts here go well beyond the UAlbany boundaries, working with families, educators, and professionals in 24 counties throughout upstate New York.
In addition to providing research and care to those on the autism spectrum, CARD also provides many opportunities to students – undergraduates can find independent study and research opportunities through the department of Psychology, and graduate students have an opportunity to find assistantship offers in Clinical Psychology.
The Regional Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Old Westbury provides high quality autism spectrum resources to individuals and families affected by autism, and to school personnel and community providers. Students with Autism need a collaborative approach to their education in order to ensure the right services are provided. The RCASD at Old Westbury is part of a regional model approach that has been shown to be a successful model around the nation for providing services and resources to families and professionals that may not have had access to cost-effective services in the past.
In December 2017, SUNY New Paltz announced the formation of the new Kressner Family Autism Spectrum Disorder Program Fund, a three-year pilot program created to benefit students as they transition into college and then to employment. Students who participate in the program will get help with finding valuable work and career options, interviewing skills and job readiness preparation. Since the campus Disability Resource Center administers the program, students also have access to the comprehensive services coming from the DRC to help them identify academic, social, and personal strengths and challenges as well as develop effective strategies to accomplish short-term goals they develop.
These are just a few of the many things happening at SUNY in the realm of autism research, care, and service. Through these efforts, we see how it is important to educate ourselves on the best way to communicate with and care for all citizens in our society. Autism Awareness month is a great time to learn!
Sarah Petrak is a student assistant with the Office of Communications and New Media for SUNY System Administration. She is a studying Public Policy at the University at Albany.