On April 4, 2012, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital, along with its affiliated medical schools Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, celebrated the start of construction on the new Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at the Hospital’s Westchester campus in White Plains. Developed in collaboration with the New York Center for Autism, the 11,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility is slated to open in early 2013. The Center’s mission is to provide cutting-edge research, education, and comprehensive services to people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at every stage of life, from infancy through adulthood.
The new Center will arrive on the scene at a time when ASD is on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism affects 1–1.5 million American children and adults. That means one in 88 children — 1 in 54 boys — have been diagnosed with ASD. The cause of this increase is only partly due to improved and broader diagnosis.
The New York Center for Autism, led by Laura Slatkin and Ilene Lainer, and with a generous contribution from Marilyn and James Simons of the Simons Foundation, has provided essential guidance and support for the formation of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. Autism Speaks Co-founders, Suzanne and Bob Wright provided additional support for the Center. Bob Wright is a Hospital Trustee.
“The startling new prevalence statistics confirm that we need more services to assist the millions of families affected by autism. The Center for Autism and the Developing Brain will help fill this void in the New York Metropolitan-area thanks the efforts of the New York Center for Autism and Simons Foundation,” said Bob Wright.
“For families, receiving an ASD diagnosis for their loved one can be overwhelming and often they don’t know where to turn for help,” says Dr. Steven J. Corwin, CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. “Thanks to the support of the autism community and the leadership and contribution of the New York Center for Autism, the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain will be an incredible partner for parents and caregivers as they seek the very best care for their child with an autism spectrum disorder.”
“NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital has made it possible to build the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain,” says Laura Slatkin, New York Center for Autism co-founder. “
Our hope is to create state-of-the art services for individuals across their lifespan that will become a model for the nation.”
Innovative Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment
“Our focus on the lifespan and interdisciplinary combination of evidence-based approaches to both assessment and treatment is unusual, even among the most highly respected programs in the country,” says Dr. Catherine Lord, a leading autism authority and the Center’s director. “We’re also proud of our innovative approach to diagnosis and treatment, and our core identity is as a hub from which we can connect patients and families to the wealth of programs and services in the community.”
The Center will streamline the process from diagnosis to treatment and maximize the usefulness of information gained from multi-level assessments. “Diagnosis is just a start,” says Dr. Lord. “By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each patient, and by monitoring and measuring that individual’s response to a variety of approaches, we will fine-tune our ability to deliver the best possible short-term treatments while linking patients and their families to existing resources in their communities.”
Diagnosis of ASD is still an imprecise science that many experts, including Dr. Lord, hope to improve. Dr. Lord has already pioneered the development of tools that have become the gold standard in autism diagnosis: the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Interview–Revised (ADI-R). She will continue to refine these tools in the rich clinical environment of the new Center.
The Center will provide leading-edge diagnostics and intensive short-term treatment, as well as longer-term follow-up. As a referral hub, the facility will build on resources and programs that are already available, linking patients and families with the services they need and forging connections among families, schools, and community organizations.
The Center has a vigorous research and training program, conducting collaborative basic and clinical research with the M.I.N.D. Institute at the University of California-Davis, UCLA’s Autism Center, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University Medical Center, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Michigan, Kings College in London, and Florida State University, among others. DNA samples from consented patients are routinely shared with consortia of geneticists in an effort to identify genetic biomarkers of autism.
Another feature of the new Center is its integrated treatment approach. Patients will receive a combination of expanded applied behavior analysis (ABA) and other targeted therapies to improve social communication and motor and adaptive skills. The interdisciplinary staff will include psychiatrists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, behavior and education specialists, social workers, and occupational therapists, along with consultants from other areas of medicine.
Dr. Lord’s vision for the Center is based on a personal desire to help families of children with autism understand the disorder, as well as their child’s strengths and weaknesses. The Center will also create a supportive physical environment in which individuals and families can flourish. The design of the new facility supports this purpose, with an open, light-filled space organized around a “village” theme. Rooms can be identified by their color — an autism-friendly approach to design — and soft carpeting and soundproofing prevent noise reverberation. The entire space will communicate openness and flexibility through the use of natural light, architectural flow, and an “open-door policy.”