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New Division Chief A Renowned Autism Researcher

Golisano Children’s Hospital names head of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

Friday, September 19, 2008

A renowned autism researcher and busy clinician has taken the helm of the Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics – and the University of Rochester Medical Center didn’t have to look farther than its own faculty to find her. Following a nation-wide search, Susan L. Hyman, M.D., has been named chief of the renamed and refocused division formerly known as the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities.

“She was the pick because of her ability to think outside the status quo box, look for programs we are not providing, and design mechanisms for making them happen; and her national reputation as a thought leader in developmental and behavioral pediatrics in its broadest and deepest sense,” said Nina F. Schor, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Department of Pediatrics and pediatrician-in-chief of Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong.

The division has always been dedicated to treating children with developmental disabilities, such as Down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. Many of the children served also have behavioral challenges. The name change signals a renewed focus on helping these children and their families.

“We want the community to know that our historic commitment is to helping children and adolescents with developmental disorders, however the overlap between developmental and behavioral concerns requires a broader perspective to help the patients and their families,” Hyman said. The multidisciplinary division includes three developmental and behavioral pediatricians, four pediatric nurse practitioners, 16 psychologists and behavior analysts, two educational specialists, two social workers, and 22 other faculty with other primary appointments.

The clinical services of the division occur within the Kirch Developmental Services Center, which serves children and adolescents with developmental disabilities and behavioral issues on an outpatient basis in the Ambulatory Center at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong. More than 2500 children are seen annually, including over 800 with diagnoses of autism and related disorders. The division maintains an active set of research studies related to diagnosis and treatment of autism, neurotoxicology, clinical trials of medical and behavioral interventions for developmental and behavioral disorders, and transition to adulthood of individuals with special health care needs.

A prestigious new initiative is the award of an Autism Treatment Network site to the University of Rochester. Fifteen sites across the U.S. and Canada will collaborate to determine the standard of care for diagnosis and medical management for children with autism. Hyman and Tristram Smith, Ph.D., are co-principal investigators of this initiative in collaboration with Child Neurology, Pediatric Gastroenterology, Pediatric Genetics and Sleep Medicine.

The division plays a large role in training the next generation of clinicians to assess and manage individuals with developmental disorders. In addition to the trainees from multiple disciplines including Pediatrics, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Social Work, Education, Audiology, Speech and Language Pathology, Psychology, and Dentistry who participate in the LEND training program directed by Stephen B. Sulkes, M.D. The faculty is committed to help train the residents and fellows at Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong to provide a “medical home” to children with special needs and with behavioral problems once they enter practice. The mission of training and education of professionals extends to novel community-based programs for providing technical support and training to school personnel to help them implement evidence-based approaches to teaching children with both developmental disabilities and behavioral issues.

The federally funded University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities will retain the name Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities (SCDD) and remain within the division. The center is directed by Sulkes, a neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrician who has dedicated his career to treating and advocating for children and adults with special needs. The clinical and research attention to the needs of young adults has led to an exciting new program funded by the Golisano Foundation: The Institute for Innovative Transition. This new collaboration between Golisano Children’s Hospital and the University’s Warner School, led by Susan Hetherington, M.S., and Martha Mock, Ph.D., seeks to improve the quality of life for young adults with developmental disabilities and their families as they transition from school age to adulthood.

“Programs such as the Institute for Innovative Transition and the Rochester Regional Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders led by Caroline I. Magyar, Ph.D., demonstrate the reach of the division. The division’s influence is extended through those we support and teach, such as teachers and young physicians and nurses. So even if a child isn’t a patient in our clinic, we hope to help that child and his or her family by teaching or supporting the people around him,” Hyman said.

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