The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Hadassah Medical Center today announced the establishment of the first interdisciplinary university-based autism center in the Middle East. The Autism Center is a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort bridging several faculties within the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center, anchored in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine.

The Autism Center will bring together cutting-edge research, clinical services, state of the art training and education for professionals and parents in the community. Research will be informed by the relationship with the community, which will in turn lead to better clinical practice, public programming and policies in support of those who deal with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Prof. David Lichtstein, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University, said: “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 families. By bringing together the relevant disciplines at the Hebrew University, including medicine, social work and education, and combining them with the clinical excellence of the Hadassah Medical Center, the Autism Center will be positioned to achieve important breakthroughs in the research, diagnosis and treatment of autism.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed in approximately 1% of children. The Israel Ministries of Education, Health, and Welfare recognize ASD as a top priority and provide diagnostic services, intervention programs, and support for families. Yet despite these efforts, significant gaps exist within the system. The Autism Center will fill these gaps within the context of the first interdisciplinary, university-based autism center in Israel.

The proposed combination of research, education, and training with clinical and community work is rare in autism centers worldwide. While some universities in the Middle East have extensive autism research programs, and others have specific associations with clinical services, none approximates the comprehensive, collaborative model proposed here.

Universities abroad follow the model of either focusing on research, or work with a community service agency through which applied research projects are established. The Autism Center aims to learn from and work with existing centers, and grow to serve as a model by expanding on current models of interdisciplinary research and service.