Giving Back

Support for a Complex, Lifelong Disorder: Expanding Autism Services at Sheppard Pratt


Imagine your child would rather spin in circles than look you in your eyes—and has no interest in being cuddled. He doesn’t play with his siblings or other children. You worry that your child has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Where do you turn for help?

With the support of a $2 million grant from the Women’s Hospital Foundation, the Autism Center at Sheppard Pratt aims to provide peace of mind for parents by expanding services across the lifespan to people with ASD.

Opening this spring, the Center will offer new programming with a focus on diagnosing children as young as 2 years of age and bringing together existing Sheppard Pratt services for older children and adults. In addition, clinicians will provide evidence-based therapies to people of all ages to address communication, social interaction, and other symptoms of this lifelong disorder.

“The Women’s Hospital Foundation is delighted to support the worthy goals of the Autism Center at Sheppard Pratt and is pleased to be able to play an important role in launching this critical program,” says Foundation President Catherine J. Boyne.

The Foundation is a Maryland-based charitable organization tracing its roots to the Hospital for the Women of Maryland, which operated in Baltimore until the mid-1960s. Today, the Foundation continues the mission of its founders by providing support to improve health care education and broaden access to health care services.

Currently, Sheppard Pratt leads the Mid-Atlantic region in the delivery of special education programs, inpatient and outpatient specialty psychiatric care, and other services for school-age children and adults with ASD. Last year, existing programs served about 1,600 individuals with autism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism occurs in about 2 percent of 8-year-olds in Maryland. While ASD can be diagnosed in children as young as 18 months, there is a nationwide shortage of providers that has resulted in long delays in diagnosis. This delay impacts when young people can access needed services.

“It is imperative for us to begin therapeutic interventions without delay to achieve the best possible outcomes,” says Robert Wisner-Carlson, MD, Chief of the Autism and Neurodevelopmental Outpatient Program, who will direct the Autism Center.

Many parents of children with ASD served by Sheppard Pratt report significant challenges with finding community providers and navigating services for their children. Sheppard Pratt also receives many referrals for diagnostic services, which it does not currently have the capacity to provide. The Autism Center is being created in direct response to community needs.

“We can make the most impact on a child’s life by increasing access to early diagnosis and timely interventions such as speech and language, occupational, and behavioral therapies,” says Dr. Wisner-Carlson. “Our goal is that children with autism have access to the support they need to thrive at every step of their journey.”