Newly Opened Autism Center in New Brunswick
Clinical and Research Partners to Help Patients and Families
NEW BRUNSWICK — The UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School has established the Robert Wood Johnson Autism Center, a collaborative effort between the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, The Children’s Specialized Hospital, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. The Center, under the direction of Dr. Michael Lewis, will address the unmet needs of children and their families with autism.
The Autism Center is based in central New Jersey, on the campuses of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway and New Brunswick. The Center will build on synergies in applied and clinical research with the affiliated hospitals of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and the collaborative partners. In addition, the center will work with the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers as well as Children’s Specialized Hospital and Jersey Shore Medical Center in Neptune.
Autism is a complex developmental disorder. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are developmental disabilities marked by impairment in social interaction and communication, which may also include obsessive interests, and repetitive or compulsive behaviors. These disorders include autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder. There is no known cause or cure.
The Autism Center will be significant to New Jersey in that the state has recognized the prevalence of autism in the region and has dedicated resources to not only identify the cause but provide the services needed to affected children and their families.
The facility will also consist of a research center designed to explore the relation between genes, brain function and behavior as it applies to ASD children. Scientists and physicians from Robert Wood Johnson Autism Center will develop new understandings of the disease and develop new means of detecting, treating, ameliorating, and preventing autism.
Lewis, a child development expert is renowned for his research in the field of developmental psychology. He is recognized as the most widely published and referenced researcher in the field. Lewis is also a distinguished professor of pediatrics at the UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and heads The Institute for the Study of Child Development, a research center within the Department of Pediatrics.
Lewis said, “The Autism Center at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School represents a commitment to the integration of research and services which will aid children and families of New Jersey suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders.”
He will be joined by professionals from seven areas that will include four basic research groups, a medical group, an educational intervention group and an outreach program. The four research groups are brain behaviors, specialists, cell biology, genetics, and pharmacology.
According to Lewis, the medical and science team has been interested for the last three years in studying children’s emotional and cognitive development. Their interest led Dr. Lewis to develop a proposal for a center, whose goal is to bring research and clinical services together. The concept was presented to the medical school’s executive council in October 2006.
An area of particular concern to the team has been on a child’s development of self-representation, which normally occurs between ages 18-24 months. Lewis described this activity as the time of discovery, when a child recognizes himself in a mirror, begins using personal pronouns, and engaging in pretend playing.
Lewis explained that this self-awareness allows a child to engage in complex social interaction, such as sharing and empathy that serve as the cornerstone for more complex behavior. It is his belief that autistic children fail or develop later the ability for self-representation. That failure leads to a deficiency in the social domain, the community and social and emotional development.
Media interested in interviewing Dr. Lewis should contact Terri Guess at 973-972-5000.
UMDNJ is the nation’s largest free-standing public health sciences university with more than 5,700 students attending the state's three medical schools, its only dental school, a graduate school of biomedical sciences, a school of health related professions, a school of nursing and a school of public health on five campuses. Annually, there are more than two million patient visits at UMDNJ facilities and faculty practices at campuses in Newark, New Brunswick/Piscataway, Scotch Plains, Camden and Stratford. UMDNJ operates University Hospital, a Level I Trauma Center in Newark, and University Behavioral Health Care, a statewide mental health and addiction services network.