The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Hadassah Medical Center have joined to create a $75 million autism center.
“Our goal in establishing the Autism Center is to lead Israel and the Middle East in research, training, clinical services and community engagement for the benefit of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their family,” said David Lichtstein, dean of the faculty of medicine at Hebrew University.
The center will bring together professionals involved with medicine, social work and education, he said.
Autism spectrum disorder is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder.
What makes this center unique is its combination of disciplines, said Cory Shulman Brody, the center’s director and a professor at Hebrew University. “Our idea is to put it all together under one roof.”
Information gained from those visiting the clinic will help target particular methods of treatment to individuals with similar diagnoses, she said. The information collected will be used to train and educate parents and professionals, she added.
An evaluation of those coming to the clinic will be conducted, she said. This will enable the center’s staff to learn what is most effective for different diagnoses and have that information used immediately, Brody said.
With a close connection between researchers and professionals who work directly with people on the autism spectrum, the center will have “a very rich data set.” That information will be available “to researchers all around the world,” Brody said.
While no one who comes to the clinic will be forced to participate in surveys and studies, Brody said she hopes many will.
Ari Ne’eman, an autism rights activist from Silver Spring who co-founded the Autism Self Advocacy Network, said he hopes the new center will focus on what services are most effective in helping people with various diagnoses become independent, hold a job and get married.
The center, he said, should “do research on how to include people with dignity and respect” and not “throw millions” of dollars into research on biology and causation.
Sola Shelly, a founder of Activists of the Autistic Community in Israel, agreed. Her organization “has serious concerns” about the way autism research and treatment are conducted. She hopes the new center understands her organization’s belief that people on the autistic spectrum “are not defective and have the right to be born and grow up as autistics.”
A successful center, in Shelly’s view, would “develop better services and supports” to increase independence.
While officially open, the new center is still in its infancy. The clinic has yet to open. However, professionals are being appointed, and monthly seminars and lectures are open to professionals and people on the autistic spectrum and their families.
Training of professionals in Israel as well as Jordan, Egypt, Greece, Cypress and Italy also has begun, said Brody. Many will work in their own countries, but will maintain ties with the center, she said.
The center does not have its own building. Instead, it operates out of Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.