Research at the MGH is interwoven throughout more than 30 departments, centers and units and is conducted with the support and guidance of the MGH Research Institute. The Research Roundup is a monthly series highlighting studies, news and events.
Alan & Lorraine Bressler
Clinical and Research Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders
Explore This Treatment Program
The Alan and Lorraine Bressler Clinical and Research Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders is dedicated to three missions:
- Improving the clinical care of children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
- Advancing the education of patients, families and service providers about these conditions
- Expanding the scientific understanding of these disorders
Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by difficulty with social interactions, communication and behavioral skills. Our program offers complete psychiatric evaluation, including psychopharmacological, neuropsychological, behavioral and social service consultations, for patients with ASD.
What to Expect at the Bressler Program
The Bressler Program provides comprehensive psychiatric assessments with a specialized psychiatrist for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
Before Your Appointment
When you contact our program, a coordinator will ask you a number of questions regarding:
- The person’s history of ASD (whether or not he or she has been previously diagnosed)
- Medication and treatment history
- General medical history
- Family history
- School status
You also receive a packet with additional questions to be completed for your first appointment. The coordinator will answer any questions you have about the program, facilitate registration and help schedule your appointment.
During the first appointment, you will have a consultation with a specialized psychiatrist. Depending on your individual needs, the psychiatrist may recommend you have consultations with other specialists as needed.
Your Care Plan
Our specialists will monitor your care plan, adjust medications as necessary for maximum effectiveness and serve as a focal point for synthesizing information.
Autism spectrum disorder is a constellation of psychological conditions characterized by difficulty with social interactions, communication and behavioral skills. Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) include autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). Recent estimates suggest that autism spectrum disorders may affect as many as one in 100 children.
How can I recognize a person with ASD?
Some children show signs and symptoms very early, but many are not diagnosed until they enter school. They may exhibit many or only a few of the characteristic ASD traits, and these behaviors may be mild or pronounced.
Characteristic ASD behaviors include:
- Difficulty with peer relationships
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of reciprocal behavior (one-sided conversations, monologues)
- Increased need for reassurance
- Preoccupation with objects or activities such as video games or surfing the Internet
- Overreaction to small situations
- Organizational difficulties
- Physical clumsiness
- Difficulties with transitions and changes in routine
- Desire for sameness
What can parents and teachers do if they suspect a child has an autism spectrum disorder?
Parents and teachers are often the first to notice signs and symptoms of these disorders. It is important to seek evaluation as early as possible, because early intervention can have a beneficial effect in reducing symptoms and improving the child’s ability to learn and function.
Our Research Studies
- Behavioral and neural response to memantine in youth with autism spectrum disorder
- An open-label treatment trial to assess the short-term tolerability, safety and efficacy of methylphenidate hydrochloride extended-release liquid formulation in high-functioning autism spectrum disorder adults with AD/HD
- An open-label trial of oxytocin in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders
- An open-label trial of buspirone for the treatment of anxiety in youth with autism spectrum disorders
- Examining the neural correlates of ADHD in adolescents with autism: A preliminary fMRI study
- Emotional dysregulation and autism spectrum disorder: A preliminary spectroscopic neuroimaging study
- Chief, Clinical and Research Programs in Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD
- Director, The Alan and Lorraine Bressler Clinical and Research Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Director, Autism Spectrum Disorder Program in Pediatric Psychopharmacology
- Medical Director, The Alan & Lorraine Bressler Program for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism spectrum disorder presentations
Screening tools for assessing ASD
About the Center
Alan and Lorraine Bressler were passionate about giving back to the Boston-area community where they lived for more than half a century and raised three daughters. Lorraine is a long-time overseer of the Museum of Fine Arts, where the couple created a named gallery. Alan, who passed away in September 2012, was a trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In addition to art and music, the couple supported education through the Boston Latin School Association and other Boston education projects. Over the last decade, the Bresslers became aware of another pressing community need.
The Bresslers knew that Joseph Biederman, MD, and his colleagues in the Pediatric Psychopharmacology and Adult ADHD Program at Mass General were studying how treatment of co-occurring psychiatric conditions can enable individuals with high-functioning autism to reach their potential and lead fulfilling lives. The Biederman team’s research was prompted by their observation that about 15% of the young people they were treating for ADHD, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder had this form of autism.
“Dr. Biederman and his team were developing a system of coordinated care to provide practical solutions for families dealing with these challenges,” said Alan Bressler in a 2010 interview. “That approach made sense to us, so we began a discussion of how we could support his efforts.” The couple’s overture soon led to the creation of the Alan and Lorraine Bressler Clinical and Research Program for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Mass General. The program opened to patients in October 2007. It is one of only a few in the country to provide comprehensive psychiatric evaluation of children and adults with high-functioning autism and to focus on treating their psychiatric conditions.
“The program made possible by the Bresslers is extraordinary on many levels,” says Dr. Biederman, founding director of the Bressler Program. “In many cases, young people can learn to manage and live with the symptoms of high-functioning autism. But if such a child is inattentive because of ADHD, or agitated, aggressive or violent because of bipolar disorder, teachers cannot reach the child, and he or she is likely to fail in school and function poorly in work, social and family life.”
Treatment in the Bressler Program
Dr. Biederman and colleagues have found that with proper psychiatric treatment, their patients with autism can take fuller advantage of educational, social skills and vocational programs.
Patients come from all over the country to seek evaluation and treatment. “Before the Bressler Program existed, many parents of children with high-functioning autism were at their wits’ end, diagnostically confused and unable to find programs that offered effective treatment,” says Gagan Joshi, MD, scientific director of the Bressler Program. “The Bressler Program offers them a ‘home,’ where their child is fully understood and can receive treatment and support well into adulthood.”
“We knew that supporting this renowned group of psychiatrists and psychologists would yield benefits far beyond what anyone could have imagined, and this has already begun to happen,” said Alan Bressler in the 2010 interview. “We hope that the program will become a national model.” Since the number of referrals exceeds current clinical capacity, the family also hopes that others will step forward to support the program so that the team can help more families and conduct further research.
- Press Release
- Feb | 21 | 2020
Imaging study detects abnormally low levels of a key protein in brains of young men with autism spectrum disorder
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have shown that the brains of young men with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have low levels of a protein that appears to play a role in inflammation and metabolism.
- Press Release
- Dec | 12 | 2019
In the largest-ever study of its kind researchers identified more than 100 genetic variants that affect the risk for more than one mental health condition.
- Patient Education
- Aug | 7 | 2019
Swallowing a pill is an important life skill that people can learn with patience and practice. For people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can take a little more time, patience and practice to learn how to swallow a pill properly.
- Patient Education
- Aug | 5 | 2019
Though the term "autism" first appeared around 1911, very little was known or medically researched about autism spectrum disorder until the late 20th century. New discoveries and advancements continue to be made today. Here are 30 facts you need to know about autism spectrum disorder.
- Feb | 5 | 2019
Brain Imaging Studies Provide New Insights into Biological Basis of Behaviors in Schizophrenia and Autism
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are using brain imaging technology to learn more about how individuals with autism and schizophrenia view the world through different lenses.
Pioneering Psychiatry Research
The integration of patient care and clinical research has been a hallmark of the Department of Psychiatry for more than 30 years. Today, the department has the largest clinical research program in the hospital, with studies at the forefront of neuroscience, molecular biology and genetics.