A new institute in White Plains offers fresh hope for families seeking interventions, treatments, and services to help their children break free of autism—or at least to atranscend its limitations. The Center for Autism and the Developing Brain, a new 11,000-square-foot private facility on the White Plains campus of NewYork-Presbyterian and its medical-school affiliates, Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, offers coordinated and integrated evaluations and treatment programs for individuals of all ages living with autism or other developmental disorders of the brain.
The Center fulfills the vision of two mothers of autistic sons—former Wall Street executive Laura Slatkin and Ilene Lainer, a former employment lawyer—who joined forces via the nonprofit New York Collaborates for Autism to raise the bulk of the $11 million needed for the Center’s construction, with contribution from the Simons Foundation as well. “They are a tremendous source of inspiration for me,” says Catherine Lord, PhD, a leading autism authority and the Center’s founding director, of the duo’s advocacy and fundraising efforts.
Seeking new treatment alternatives for her son DJ, Sleepy Hollow resident Pamela Pierce* brought him for an in-depth evaluation at the Center prior to its official opening. “I’ve been incredibly impressed by the people there,” she says. “They have a knowledgeable, caring, dedicated staff of highly trained and experienced professionals. It’s comforting to know where to turn.”
Valhalla’s Michelle Lida is likewise thrilled to see the institute come to fruition, calling its mission “hopeful and exciting.” Lida, who is interested in exploring research trials, evaluations, and treatment opportunities for her 7-year-old son, Willy, echoes the sentiments of many parents in saying that she “will leave no stone unturned to help him be the best he can be.”
Lord says she seeks to have “an immediate, direct impact” on Westchester families like Pierce’s and Lida’s. Whether through multimillion-dollar fundraising, or simply navigating the complexities of current treatment models for their children, Lord believes, “Families—especially parents, but also siblings and grandparents—are the key to autism. What they do makes more of a difference than anything else.”
The Center, she says, is focusing on translating assessments into meaningful treatments that will positively impact patients’ daily lives. Lord leads
a multidisciplinary clinical team comprising specialists in psychology, neurology, psychiatry, pediatrics, and other disciplines, as well as speech and language, occupational, and behavioral therapies. She envisions the Center serving as a hub for the autistic community that can be replicated on a national scale.
The facility was designed using a village theme, with assessment/treatment areas resembling softly colored homes, and features 30-foot-high ceilings, a small healing garden, and soundproofing elements soothing to people on the autism spectrum, who often have difficulty processing sensory input.
An internship program for teenagers and young adults has been established, and specialty programs, such as swimming, are being considered for the future.