In 2018, Samantha and Christina, two moms of children on the autism spectrum with mental health challenges, joined forces to give voice to a need in our community. When children on the spectrum need a child psychiatrist, the choices are slim in Central New York. There are not nearly enough of these specialists in outpatient settings, and local parents are resorting to several options when seeking medication management for their children. Medicating our children is not a decision we take lightly. We believe that trained professionals in the field of psychiatry should be the ones prescribing and managing those medications. However, not all child psychiatrists have expertise in understanding treatment for those on the autism spectrum. Some children use limited verbal communication or are nonverbal. Some primary care physicians are prescribing in a pinch when our children are seen in emergency room settings and have prescriptions going forward. Some developmental pediatricians are prescribing because they are familiar with our children’s challenges, but again, they are not psychiatrists.
When our children have a psychiatric emergency, the options are even more limited if an inpatient hospital stay is needed. There are currently no inpatient hospital programs in our state which adequately serve children with a developmental disability plus a mental health diagnosis. So, one of two things happens: an emergency room keeps the child until they are transferred to an appropriate hospital (often out of state), or the family goes home to weather the storm and get on a wait list of a proper inpatient program. Neither of these options is acceptable.
The Autism Mental Health Initiative of Central New York, AMI of CNY, is committed to the improvement of both the outpatient and inpatient settings of child psychiatry services for children in Central New York. We are listening to our local legislators, and asking them to look to us. We have a Facebook group where parents of dually diagnosed children and young adults can share information and find comfort in each other’s daily victories and challenges. If this is an issue close to your heart, please reach out and take part in this local effort with us!