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Program in the Spotlight

Program in the Spotlight
Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders

Under the leadership of Service Chief Martin Lubetsky, MD, and faculty members Benjamin Handen, PhD and John McGonigle, PhD, the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders provides excellent clinical services and also serves as an important environment for research and training.

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects about one out of every 68 children, and boys are almost five times more likey to be identified with autism than girls. Individuals with autism have difficulties with social interaction and communication, and unusual or intense interests or repetitive behaviors.

The Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC (WPIC) under the leadership of Martin Lubetsky, MD, Chief of the Center and of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Services, is one of 17 national locations of the Autism Treatment Network and serves as Western Pennsylvania’s Regional Autism, Services, Education, Resources and Training Center.  However, the Center’s impact reaches well beyond Western Pennsylvania. 

“What sets this program apart from others is the comprehensive evidence-based assessment and treatment approach to treating individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder across the lifespan,” said Dr. Lubetsky, “Teaching trainees, implementing clinical research, and providing tools and resources for parents really is what makes the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders unique from other programs.”


Under the leadership of Service Chief Martin Lubetsky, MD, and faculty members Benjamin Handen, PhD and John McGonigle, PhD, the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders provides excellent clinical services and also serves as an important environment for research and training.

Through the efforts of Department of Psychiatry faculty and the Center’s dedicated clinicians and support staff, the program has garnered national and international attention for its educational, clinical and research activities.  For example, in October 2013, John McGonigle, PhD, traveled to Moscow, Russia, at the invitation of leaders coordinating the 2013 International Forum on Autism, to share his expertise on behavior assessments and management of autism across the lifespan and educating students with autism in the classroom.   Drs. Martin Lubetsky, Benjamin Handen, and John McGonigle collaborated on the book Autism Spectrum Disorder as part of the Pittsburgh Pocket Psychiatry Series published by Oxford University Press.  The book is used as part of the educational curriculum and a resource in many training programs across the United States. 

The Center provides an excellent environment for research designed to help individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families.  The Merck Inpatient Unit recently received a three-year national accreditation from the National Association on Dual Diagnosis (NADD) and the children and adolescents group was selected to join the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Inpatient Research Collaborative, a national effort of six specialized inpatient units, to develop best practice pathways for assessment and treatment with initial support from the Simons Foundation and the Nancy Lurie Marks Family Foundation.  With support from the Health Research Services Administration, Benjamin Handen, PhD is investigating the efficacy of a medication to decrease weight gain in children who are prescribed atypical antipsychotic medications (which often leads to significant weight gain) in the Merck Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinic.  The Autism Treatment Network, under the direction of Dr. Handen and with support from the national Autism Speaks initiative, is dedicated to developing and implementing evidence-based assessment and treatment strategies for children, adolescents and adults with autism. 

The most effective treatment and care for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder starts in early childhood, with treatment starting in some children as young as 18 months. The Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders has a range of programs and services for children including inpatient and outpatient, early intervention programs such as Autism Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention, and Theiss  Early Autism Preschool Program, and summer programs offering intensive day treatment and therapeutic inclusion services. 

To meet the needs of adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the Center also offers a range of programs and services for adults including the Merck Adult Outpatient Clinic, Vocational Training Center and Supported Employment Program, and Merck Inpatient Unit for adults.   

To learn more about the Center and accessing their services, click here.