Nixon proposes $5 million more for MU’s Thompson Center

The funding would boost treatments, community programs, trainings and research.

MU’s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders could serve more families in the 2017 fiscal year with a $5 million appropriation proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon. These funds are part of an additional $131 million in state and federal funding for the Department of Mental Health’s Division of Developmental Disabilities.

The Thompson Center will search for a new building to expand its research, training and diagnosis and treatment practices. Spokeswoman Adrienne Cornwall said the center will be glad to perform more diagnoses and provide families with more support and programs with the funding.

“When families are awaiting a diagnostic appointment or services, it can be a difficult time,” Cornwall said. “So being able to help more families and help them faster is what it’s really all about. I think that’s what the governor had in mind, is that more families will get services and see an improvement in their children’s development by coming to see our providers.”

In his State of the State address Jan. 20, Nixon spoke of the origins of his passion for mental health.

“My mom taught kids with developmental disabilities,” Nixon said in the address. “She worked hard at a job she loved, cared deeply for others and always stood up for what she knew was right … She passed away before I became a state senator. But I am still trying to live up to her expectations and ideals.”

The proposed $5 million will go toward both acquiring a property sensible for training, research and offices and outfitting the space with equipment.

Transferring the center’s training and research functions to a new building will potentially allow an additional 2,000 clinical visits to the current location per year, Cornwall said. In 2015, the Thompson Center provided 9,392 visits to 2,082 distinct patients. Their clients include primarily kids 0-18 years old, but also some adults seeking support throughout their lives.

At the new facility, the center hopes to expand its large group training capabilities, vetting 28 new care providers per year over the next five years. The trainees include interns from a diverse array of health disciplines who will be taught how to use diagnostic tools and perform best practices.

Cornwall said the Thompson Center is one of few centers in the country that excels in all three primary areas of autism care: training, treatment and research. The Thompson Center research core collaborates with medical disciplines but also with engineering, computer science and genetics to stay innovative in the field.

Beyond research and treatment clinics, the center has robust training programs not only for future providers but for families, health professionals, teachers and the business community. It facilitated more than 8,000 instances of online and in-person professional and parent trainings in 2015, Cornwall said.

The center’s strength is recognized locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Clients come from counties as far as five to six hours away. Executive Director Stephen Kanne is an independent trainer of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule II, or ADOS-II. He and the training staff are sought by school districts regionally and at centers internationally.

“We are very grateful for Gov. Nixon’s ongoing support for the Thompson Center,” said Thompson Center pediatrician Dr. Kristin Sohl. “And we are grateful to the state of Missouri for providing resources to be on the cutting edge of autism care and for providing best practices.”

The Thompson Center’s accolades are part of a larger story where Missouri, and Columbia specifically, have fixed themselves as front-runners in autism awareness and care.

Organizations like the world-class developmental medical care and the many research teams streaming from MU make Columbia an inclusive community that rallies around individuals with all sorts of disabilities, Cornwall said.

The Thompson Center does its part in facilitating awareness by training in Columbia Public Schools and teaching businesses about autism through their Autism Friendly Business programs.

“I think Columbia just has such great care and a lot of organizations in the community to support people with disabilities, so it makes it a great place for families to thrive,” Cornwall said.

The governor’s proposed budget, by Missouri law, will be reviewed and approved by Legislature by May. Nixon doesn’t expect much friction on the mental health issues, according to Columbia Missourian coverage.

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