Autism Mental Health

In This Together: Autism Mental Health Initiative of CNY Documentary Project Begins Filming

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Filming began in early June on our documentary exploring the experiences of families and individuals in Central New York as they try to find the right mental health support for autistic family members or themselves.

Part of Sanchia A Callender, Inc’s Autism Mental Health Initiative, the documentary is an opportunity for families and individuals to tell their own stories shedding light on the unmet mental health support needs of autistic people and people with other developmental disabilities.

People often struggle alone and in silence without appropriate mental health support. Our documentary aims to help people recognize that they are not alone and to engender a conversation among parents and impacted youth and adults about what can be done to increase the services that meet their needs.

Support for this documentary project comes from the Central New York Community Foundation.

AMI CNY: Autism & Mental Health Initiative in Central New York

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.

Access For All: Autism Mental Health Initiative

Access For All: Autism Mental Health Initiative

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!

Autism and Mental Health Work Group

Had our first policy work group today discussing bringing families, individuals, and advocacy groups together to raise awareness of the needs of people who live with autism and mental health challenges. We'll be reaching out to more families and local advocacy groups in the coming months to create a unified focus on the needs of the dual diagnosed community.

Program Updates

I've been busy working to develop the business plan of the foundation to help guide fundraising efforts. New program and funding initiatives are listed on the Projects page of I'll list them here as well. I'm excited for the great things we can do for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Please consider making a donation either  through the website or via the foundation's gofundme page.


Residential Youth Activities Fund

The Mohawk Hard-to-Place Unit of the Children’s Home in Schenectady, NY is the home for youth who have been in residential care for a significant part of their lives. This was Sanchia’s last work place. The Residential Youth Activities Fund will provide the funding  for onsite and community activities that give residents a fuller more rounded life experience.


Garrison House

Families and individuals with developmental disabilities are seeking independent living solutions for family members and themselves in increasing numbers. The service continuum after an individual reaches the age of 21, the age when school age serves end and adult services begin, is not sufficient to meet the housing needs for people with developmental disabilities. Garrison House is a hybrid program drawing on the resources of the nonprofit and for-profit sectors to create independent living solutions tailored to the needs of the individual. In doing so the program also creates housing solutions for students in related fields seeking real world experience and people in need of stable housing opportunities.


Autism and Mental Health Initiative

According to Data USA the clinician to patient ratio for mental health across all counties in New York state is 1 to 202. There are not enough health care providers to go around. Within that insufficient group of providers, the number who are equipped and willing to meet the needs of people with autism who also have mental health issues is smaller still. Families fight against barriers to access to find that the care that the need is only available hours away in another city or another state. The Autism and Mental Health Initiative is a coordinated effort with community partners to raise awareness of the mental health needs of people on the autism spectrum and create a movement that brings the necessary state, federal, and county resources to the Syracuse community.

SACF Founder at NYS ASD Advisory Board Public Forum

Read the written comments I submitted at the New York state Autism Spectrum Disorder Advisory Board Upstate Public Forum on February 13, 2018. Speakers had 3 minutes so I gave a summary of the written comments as well. Education, self-direction, mental healthcare, and representation of autistic voices featured heavily in my spoken and written comments.