Cecelia McCarton, M.D.
Dr. McCarton on TODAY
Dr. Cecelia McCarton, along with Lois and Danny Molina, who have two children with autism, join TODAY on World Autism Awareness Day to chat about the disorder, and what’s driving the increase in statistics.
Sheryl McCarthy, lecturer at City University of New York, sits down with Dr. McCarton to discuss the rise of autism and the benefits of treatment.
Forty years ago I started my medical career in the South Bronx as the Clinical Director of a highrisk infant project. My team and I made home visits in the projects and tenements, helping families care for their infants. What I saw during that time astonished me. It broke my heart. It inspired me.
These families were just like any other family. They had hopes and dreams for their children and wanted the best for them. Unfortunately, difficult circumstances—often out of their control— blocked their efforts.
Over the next 20 years, I met families whose love and courage shaped me as person and as a doctor. Even after facing countless shut doors and dead ends, they remained tenacious and hopeful for their child’s future.
During that time, I was consistently struck by the lack of facilities and programs that existed to help these children. I came to learn that, this was true for families all over the city, across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Determined to change this, I established The McCarton Center for Developmental Pediatrics to provide evaluations and therapy for children with a wide range of developmental disorders.
The center was first of its kind by providing evaluations and assessments as well as speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy all under one roof. This gave us the ability to integrate our treatment approach, working closely together to address each area of deficit and understanding their intrinsic nature.
The opening of the center coincided with a rapid increase in the number of children being diagnosed with autism, and we quickly discovered that our integrated treatment approach was extremely effective for children on the spectrum.
Over the next few years, as the autism population skyrocketed, the center gained an international reputation for our unprecedented success in treating these children. Thousands of families reached out, more than we could accommodate. I found myself filled with the same frustration I had felt in the Bronx so many years before, face-to-face with so many families in need and a dearth of appropriate programs to help them and their children. And so the McCarton Foundation was born. Our mission: treating and educating children with developmental disabilities. Our first order of business: the establishment of a school for children with autism. Within a year, the McCarton School opened its doors.
People always ask, “Why did you do that? Why did you spend all of your time and money on starting this school?” Well, it’s really very simple. It was necessary. At that time, there were no schools for children with severe autism. People were skeptical, and I won’t deny that it was challenging. It required a great deal of hard work and a will of steel. But over time the McCarton School found great success.
After the McCarton School we launched the Children’s Academy, a school for children with speech and language delays, and the only school of its kind with a Licensed Speech Pathologist in every classroom.
I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished at the center and the schools. We built groundbreaking programs that have become gold standards in treatment and education. But their reach is limited. They are all are private programs in Manhattan. The intensive, one-to-one student-to-teacher ratio makes operating costs high and tuition out of reach for most families, certainly for those families who shaped me in the South Bronx. Frustrated by this barrier blocking our programs from helping children desperately in need, I decided to do something about it.
The McCarton Foundation team and I spent months working with city and state officials to determine what developmental and educational services were most needed and where our efforts would have the greatest impact. In the end, I found myself led right back to the South Bronx. It was like coming home.
With your help, we will bring life-changing services to children in the Bronx by opening the first early intervention center especially for children with autism in this very underserved community. This center is necessary. The Bronx is home to thousands of children with autism, yet lacks a single early intervention center that can meet their needs.
I have spent my life believing in our children. I founded the McCarton Foundation based on the belief that all children have potential and deserve the opportunity to reach it. We have the tools to help them do this. Now we need your support to bring them to this community in need.
- Dr. Cecelia McCarton – Fall 2016