Upstate Medical Autism Symposium: More Cases Diagnosed but Gap in Treatment, Support

Apr 19, 2017

Neuroscience research is conducted at Upstate's Institute for Human Performance in Syracuse

Doctors are finding more autism and greater acceptance for people with the condition, but patients and families still face obstacles in getting treatment and support. Upstate Medical University held a symposium on autism as part of National Autism Awareness Month. Associate neuroscience professor at Upstate Frank Middleton is working on further developing tools for early diagnosis. However, he says there’s a crucial delay between warning signs and a full assessment. 

“Right now the wait time is ten months to a year. And you’re talking about a critical period in the development of the child’s brain,” Middleton says. “If you have to wait ten months to a year to get a definitive diagnosis that results in the acquisition of services, you’ve lost an incredible amount of time that you could’ve been doing something with those kids.”                

Middleton says red flags for parents and pediatricians include children developing at a slower pace, or children experiencing a regression in development in language or social skills.

He says once children are diagnosed, therapies can now help them to experience more normal social and educational lives.

 “If you just make slight modifications in the delivery of the classroom material to these children then they can have a very normal or very near normal educational experience for a lot of them,” Middleton says. “This recognition is something that really didn’t exist more than three decades ago.”                 

Researcher Gahan Pandina, with Janssen Research & Development  says over the past 10 years both public and private schools have dramatically improved their ability to identify children with autism and improve their education. He says despite the improvements for children there are not enough services for adults.

 “Unfortunately we still don’t have the best long term outcomes that we’d like to see and often adults with autism once they reach the age of twenty-one lose their access to those kinds of services, ” Pandina says.

Pandina says he believes individuals with autism have a lot to offer and he would like to see society embrace and support them so they can live meaningful and enriching lives.



The level of understanding and acceptance of autism has risen significantly in the last 15 years. ABC Correspondent and author John Donvan wrote a book about the condition, In a Different Key, and says that there are still plenty of problems for those diagnosed.

“There’s still terrible stories that we hear of abuse of people like that and that breaks my heart.  Our goal is to try and get that story out into the light.”

Donvan finds that awareness of those with mild autism is up, but those on the more severe end of the autism spectrum are overlooked. He notes that people need to change their behavior towards all people on the autism spectrum.

“And so the message of our book is that the larger community needs to step up and not freak out about people who are different, but be good to them, kind to them, make friends with them… make room for them.”

Donvan recommends supporting those with autism rather than trying to change them. His research finds that the numbers of diagnoses are on the rise as awareness spreads.

“There are adults who have gone all their lives wondering why they are different, and then as an adult then suddenly get themselves a diagnosis, so they add to the number.”

Donvan also notes that rates of diagnosis in communities of color are lower than in white communities because no one is looking for it. Upstate Medical University is holding an Autism Symposium through tomorrow focused on autism research and findings.