Skip navigation

Calls to Action

A New Way to Support Those with Autism; a Mission to Improve Diagnosis

State-of-the-art facility combines research, comprehensive care and community support for all ages in an autism-friendly environment
May 15, 2013


This week, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital is preparing to officially open the doors to its new Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. The facility, located at the hospital’s Westchester campus, combines research and comprehensive care across the lifespan. 

New York Collaborates for Autism, led by Laura Slatkin and Ilene Lainer, supported and guided the center’s creation. Additional funding came from Autism Speaks, whose co-founder Bob Wright is a hospital trustee. Marilyn and Jim Simons, of the Simons Foundation, also provided support, as did the Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation. Through NewYork-Presbyterian, the center is affiliated with the medical colleges of both Cornell and Columbia universities.

Autism Speaks takes pride in partnership
Autism Speaks has committed $1 million to support the center, which it considers a new model for delivering lifetime care. In addition, a portion of proceeds from the “2013 Westchester/Fairfield Walk Now for Autism Speaks” will be donated to the center. The Walk is being held June 2, on NewYork-Presbyterian’s Westchester campus.

“The vision behind this center is extraordinary,” says Wright. “It represents the ultimate in care. From the earliest days of diagnosis, it anticipates the needs of each person, while recognizing his or her potential as a contributing member of the surrounding community.”

The center’s integrated approach includes psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, behavior and education specialists and social workers, along with other medical specialties. The center also serves as a referral hub connecting individuals and families to community services.

Providing care while advancing diagnosis and treatment
“By evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of each patient and by measuring that individual’s response to a variety of approaches, we will fine-tune our ability to deliver the best possible treatments,” says center director Catherine Lord, Ph.D. Dr. Lord is a professor of child psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

One of the center’s special missions will be to improve autism diagnosis. Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains an imprecise science, says Dr. Lord, who helped develop today’s leading diagnostic methods.

The facility has already established a research and training program in collaboration with universities and medical centers around the world. This allows individuals and families to participate in studies on advanced treatments and support services. With patient consent, the center will also share anonymous genetic information with scientists searching for biomarkers to improve understanding and treatment of autism.

“The Center for Autism and the Developing Brain is exemplary in its mission to provide comprehensive autism services from infancy through adulthood,” says Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, Ph.D. “This lifetime perspective will help ensure that each individual reaches his or her potential as an adult. It will also serve as a model for other centers aspiring to provide comprehensive lifetime care.”

An autism friendly environment
In design, the center creates an autism-friendly environment. Its “treatment village” emphasizes open architecture and natural light. Pavilions with activity and treatment areas surround a central square and garden. Other autism-friendly design elements include sound dampening, soft carpeting and color-coded rooms.