Catherine Lord, director of the University of Michigan Autism and Communication Disorders Center, will be leaving the University this fall to open a new autism center in New York City.

Her departure will consequently lead to the closure of the center, primarily built around her research. Despite the loss of UMACC, the University will still be working toward developing autism research programs in the future, and current research initiatives funded by the federal government will continue after she leaves.

According to information provided to The Michigan Daily by the University, the University Health System will look to develop a new “comprehensive and multidisciplinary program to evaluate children with autism” in 2012 in response to the loss.

The new program will come in addition to those that currently exist for patients with autism using the University Health System, which include a number of clinics within the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Psychiatry.

Additionally, Lord said the two federally funded studies currently being conducted by UMACC will continue following her departure so as not to disrupt patients’ treatment. Other UMACC patients, Lord said, will be introduced to other services available in the Ann Arbor area.

Lord said she thinks it’s unfortunate that the University is shutting down UMACC because it will end the care it currently provides for children with autism and their families, adding that she feels the center serves an important need for the community.

“I think we do serve a particular need because on campus there really isn’t another center that provides family-oriented care for kids and families and adults,” she said.

The new autism center that Lord will establish in New York, the Institute for Brain Development, is scheduled to open its doors in late 2012. The Institute will operate in collaboration with New York Presbyterian Hospital, the home of Wiell Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Lord said.

Lord said the Institute will also benefit from having the ability to hire junior faculty. This is a significant change from UMACC, where Lord herself was the only faculty member on staff. She said she was pleased that the New York center will be supported by a group rather than just one individual.

Lord added that she resisted the move to New York at first, but eventually the opportunity to set up a new autism center persuaded her. She said the fact that her children have established careers in New York City made the timing seem right.

Lord also said the new Institute will have more funding and research opportunities compared to what is available at the University, though they will have similar initiatives.

“Hopefully we’ll be more integrated into the medical system, and then also we will have philanthropic support so we’ll be able to subsidize some things that we just can’t do here in Michigan,” Lord said.

Donor funding will allow the New York center to provide more support and assistance for families with members who have autism and other developmental disorders, Lord said. She explained that such programs can be difficult to sustain in Michigan because they aren’t usually covered by health insurance.

In addition to her work at the center, Lord will continue teaching in New York at Teachers College, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Education.

“Although that’s not going to be my main job, I really want to keep in touch with teaching,” Lord said.

Lord will only be teaching graduate students, though she said she would like to work with undergraduates again in the future.

“We hope we can affiliate with undergraduate programs just because the undergraduates here at (the University) have been so important to us,” Lord said. “We just have an army of undergraduates who help us do almost everything that we do.”

Despite her departure, Lord said it has been a joy to teach at the University and to be a part of both the psychology department and UMACC.

“I think this is an amazing university,” Lord said. “It’s been a wonderful experience.”

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