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New Autism Center Opens

Establishing an easier path to diagnosis and treatment

NEW YORK (May 1, 2013)

Dr. Lord works with a young boy at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain
Catherine Lord, Ph.D., the Center's director,
with a young patient.

Navigating the pathway to autism diagnosis and treatment may feel like being lost in a maze. Many patients and their families struggle to find a diagnosis and services to tackle the various behavioral, physical, and practical issues that stem from the disorder. For many families, adequate treatment is not put into place for months after a diagnosis has been received and important opportunities for early intervention are missed.

To better help patients, NewYork-Presbyterian is opening the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain (CADB) at its Westchester campus in Spring of this year. The Center will provide comprehensive services in a single setting to address the needs of children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The Center will offer initial assessments and follow up evaluations with a focus on linking assessment to specific treatments. Specialists from a variety of disciplines including psychology, psychiatry, speech and language pathology, behavior analysis, social work, and occupational therapy will offer a range of empirically supported treatments individually designed for each patient. The focus will be on relatively intense short-term treatments (6 to 12 weeks) that are then linked to community-based approaches closer to home, with continued follow-up and consultation available to families and schools from CADB.

Families and Then Schools

The assumption behind CADB is that different kinds of services have different effects and that children and adults with ASD need different kinds of help at different times. "We want to have innovative, quality services across the age range," said Catherine Lord, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain.

Exterior of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain building
The Center for Autism and the Developing

At the core are families, and next are schools in terms of lasting effects. CADB will employ a range of services, many of which are targeted to helping families support their children, understand how ASD may affect development and how interventions can change behavior and opportunities, as well as help adults develop social and vocational opportunities. Consultation to schools, preschools and adult programs are also available.

A room with play blocks at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain
A room with play blocks at the Center.

Another major principle behind the Center is transparency. Families can watch any of their children's therapies or groups from observation rooms with one-way mirrors. For small children, sessions are often conducted in rooms large enough so families can easily be in the room if the child feels more comfortable. Reports are written for families so they can take them to the school; more specific follow up is available including school and home visits.

An Individualized Approach to Treatment

This approach is built on the idea that every child, with or without autism, has strengths and weaknesses. These patterns can be identified through comprehensive direct testing and from parent input through interviews and questionnaires.

Among the many services CADB will offer is a Transitions and Milestones program that parents and their similar-aged children can join together in small groups for workshops about specific topics such as getting ready for kindergarten, what happens socially and academically when you start third grade, adolescence, or finding a job after school is over. The goal is to help families anticipate changes and to share information about ways to cope with or even benefit from these changes.

Design Aesthetic

interior port windows at the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain
Interior windows at the Center allow natural

The CADB is built as a "treatment village" within the main part of an old gymnasium in a historic building. It is light and airy with soothing colors and design elements that draw the patient and family in without overwhelming them. Rooms were designed with lots of closets so that furniture can be stored and to be maximally flexible so that an activity room may contain a center-based program for 2-year-olds and their parents in the morning, a preschool class for verbal and more able 4 and 5-year-old children in the early afternoon, an after school "social club" for young teens in the late afternoon, and an adult social group in the evening.

"Our goal is not only to change the child or adult's behavior in the Center with us, but to figure out how to make things better in their real environments," Dr. Lord said. In children, we want to see how well a child fits the criteria for autism, but we spend an equal amount of time helping the family figure out how to build on their child's strengths and address his or her difficulties – this affects the kinds of treatment we use and how the family may want to behave with the child, she added.

Measuring Change

Part of the research mission of the Center is to develop better methods to measure change. "It has not been easy to show changes in the trajectories of children's and adult's development. When is a child just starting off slowly but still has a real chance at catching up? Do children sometimes plateau in their learning; is this normal or something to worry about? How do the changes in an individual child fit with what his or her parents are doing, what is happening at school and his or her own temperament?" Dr. Lord said.

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