Happenings Around Mizzou: The Thompson Center

One in Every 36 Children
Conducting program and center reviews is an important responsibility of the Office of the Provost. These reviews allow a department chair or center director to present a detailed report on the unit they oversee. While they are time consuming to prepare, program reviews have afforded me the opportunity to get a close look at the transformational work being done by MU faculty, staff, and students. Learning about this work is one of the best aspects of the role of MU’s Provost.

The most recent review was the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment. The rising prevalence of autism especially among children calls for more extensive support. Per the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010, one in 68 children was diagnosed with autism. This changed to one in 44 in 2018, and by 2020 it was one out of every 36. A similar trend can be seen in data for our state.

MU is very fortunate to have the Thompson Center, which brings together multidisciplinary initiatives that serve this need. Established in 2005 with a generous gift from Bill and Nancy Thompson, the Thompson Center coordinates the work of faculty and clinicians who contribute to clinical, research, and training needs that support children and families who have needs related to autism and neurodevelopment.

As part of a consortium of six autism centers in the state of Missouri, that are supported by the Office of Autism Services, Department of Mental Health, the Thompson Center provides approximately 15,000 clinical visits per year for 4,000 unique patients and supports family needs for 15 different specialties. The center also offers clinics in several areas including cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and autism evaluations for children in foster care.

Being part of an academic health center at an AAU institution such as ours, the Thompson Center’s work is unique in that it connects the latest research findings to clinical services, hence improving patient care and outcomes. To this end the Center has research collaborations with MU’s School of Medicine, College of Education and Human Development, College of Arts and Science, and College of Health Sciences. National research collaborations include joint work with researchers at Brown, Cornell, Duke, Emory, McMaster, Penn State, Stanford, UC-Davis, UC-Irvine, UC-San Francisco, University of Florida, UMKC, University of Kansas, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rhode Island, and University of Virginia.

Equally important, the Thompson Center also ensures that we train the next generation of support providers in this area; in FY22 alone, over 1,400 students and professional trainees attended didactic presentations to learn about autism and neurodiversity related issues and over 450 participated in clinical training in this area. The Thompson Center serves as a training site for several academic programs, including TIPS for Kids, the Applied Behavior Analysis Master’s Program, the Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics Fellowship, Clinical Psychology Predoctoral Internship and Postdoctoral Training, and provides support for post-secondary training for MU Students.

Demand for the center’s services continues to grow. Currently, more than 1,500 children are waiting for an autism evaluation. The current capacity at the Thompson Center is approximately 750 per year resulting in long waiting times for families.

As we applaud the work of the Executive Director–Dr. Sheinkopf—and his team, and offer thanks to Bill and Nancy Thompson for their continued generosity, let us consider ways to support the Thompson Center via our own giving, and by reaching out to friends who have the capacity to give. Our children need our support, and Dr. Sheinkopf’s team has a plan. We can achieve this goal using MU’s research, teaching, and service mission in a way that few other organizations can.