One in 110 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. But we still do not know what causes or how best to treat autism. Our Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics is already a national leader in autism research. Susan Hyman, M.D., leads our Autism Speaks research effort, as one of 12 centers nationally pooling ideas, resources, and data to make a difference for children and families with autism. Tristram Smith, Ph.D., is conducting NIH-funded research to optimize behavioral management, education, and support strategies and pharmacologic management of the disabling behaviors that can be associated with autism. Laura Silverman, Ph.D., is working on characterizing features of verbal and non-verbal communication in individuals with autism; and defining diagnostic features of autism in special populations, including children with multisensory disabilities. Our autism researchers, realizing how complex a disorder autism is, have taken advantage of the rich intellectual environment at the University of Rochester and have collaborated with researchers on campus in Psychology, Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the Warner School of Education.
Sustaining this research effort in the face of drastic cuts in Federal funding will be challenging, but we must do it. That is why our autism research and education efforts are a major part of our capital campaign. It is likely that solving the autism puzzle will not be completed in one “generation” of physicians and scientists. We must retain our outstanding mentors, keep them productive as researchers and educators, and then recruit and retain the next generation to make significant contributions to the health and well-being of children and families with autism.