Autism Center Now Accepting Diagnostic Evaluations, Assessment Appointments

autism centerCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 6, 2009 – The Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment is ready to begin accepting Diagnostic Evaluation and Assessment appointments.

The Center will conduct evaluations in its temporary location at 920 Broadway- Suite 104 of the Southeast Innovation Center while its new facility is being completed at 611 N. Fountain Street, said Connie Hebert, Center director.

“We will begin conducting activities in our new facility in January,” she said.

Those interested in making an appointment for diagnostic evaluation or assessment should contact The University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment at (573) 986-4985.  Families and/or clients will be asked to complete a brief phone interview upon calling the center.  A client history form will be mailed to families/clients to complete and return to the office before an appointment can be scheduled. Clients/families will be scheduled in the order the completed forms are received, Hebert said.

“Our Diagnostic Team will review information prior to scheduling appointments to make sure the University Autism Center is the appropriate place for an evaluation,” she said. “If the Center is not the best place for an evaluation, we will assist families/clients in contacting an appropriate specialist and scheduling an appointment.”

Following the evaluation or assessment, families/clients will meet with a multi-disciplinary team and any other service providers they wish in order to discuss treatment recommendations.

Pediatricians, Early Childhood Educators and Providers, Public School employees and others who routinely observe children and youth are encouraged to make referrals.  Referrals require direct contact with the client and/or guardian prior to scheduling an appointment, Hebert said.

The Center’s Diagnostic Team currently includes Dr. Victoria Moore who will conduct diagnostic and clinical evaluations under the supervision of Dr. Scott Brandhorst.  Moore completed a doctoral program in clinical psychology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a pre-doctoral internship at The National Autism Center at The May Institute in Randolph, Mass., and a post-doctoral fellowship at The Watson Institute in Sewickley, Pa.

Joining Moore in conducting clinical evaluations and contributing to the diagnostic assessment is G. Elaine Beussink, MA, CCC-SLP.  Beussink has 18 years of experience that includes serving as a speech and language pathologist in the public schools and in-district autism consultant, adjunct faculty at Southeast Missouri State University, and supervision of externs and field experience.  These clinicians may be joined by additional specialists under contract with the University as needed to render a quality diagnosis and/or develop quality outcomes for treatment planning.

Center Director Hebert has been involved in the project from the time the University received appropriations in 2007. Hebert has more than 20 years of experience working in the field of special education, first as a classroom teacher for several years and most recently as a regional consultant for behavior and autism in central Pennsylvania and a systems level Special Education consultant with the Southeast Regional Professional Development Center at Southeast Missouri State.  Hebert said she hopes the new Center will reduce the length of time patients are placed on waiting lists for diagnostic services. The new Center, she explains, is designed to provide critical diagnostic information for families, including appropriate referrals for services and identification of treatment options.

“Our new facility will become home to the University Diagnostic team, The Tailor Institute, and TouchPoint Autism Services (formerly Judevine Center for Autism) where each will continue to provide quality services and therapy,” Hebert said. “Once we are in our new facility, we plan to expand to provide additional services for treatment and therapy in coordination with our in-house collaborators as well as other University and community programs and providers.”  Services may include social groups and clubs, support groups, parent education programs, professional development workshops, summer experiences and other specialty and event programming, she said. The Center also will provide practicum, internship and externship experiences for University students as well as research endeavors when possible in order to prepare future professionals for meeting the needs of this growing population, she said. In addition to these services, the Center will advocate for individuals with autism spectrum disorders in their community.

The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents in fall 2008 approved the final conceptual design for the new 11,582-gross-square-foot center in the area formerly serving as the Washington School playground at the corner of Mill and Middle Streets. The design, provided by Mackey Mitchell Architects, is based on a conventional one-story, brick construction with metal roofing.  Hebert said the space allows for future expansion to the north, adding that construction materials and finishes for the building have been chosen to create a welcoming environment for the individuals with autism spectrum disorders who will be served by the Center.

Cost of the project is $2.6 million, which includes a 15.5 percent contingency. Funding for the center — $2.6 million — is coming from the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative. In addition, $494,000 in operating and start-up funds for the Center was allocated for fiscal 2009 through the Department of Mental Health.

Hebert said state Sen. Jason Crowell led the effort to secure both capital and operational appropriations for the center. She said he also attended several planning sessions and is a strong supporter of the partnership with Southeast, TouchPoint Autism Services-Southeast Project and The Tailor Institute so that one facility could address the spectrum of autism diagnosis and treatment.

The new Center will house numerous small and large diagnostic/therapy rooms with observation capabilities for family members, clinicians and students.  Several therapy rooms were specifically designed for music therapy, occupational therapy and life skills training in addition to providing conference and training space to be used for parent education, staff meetings and University instruction.

“While it has not been explained, the increase of the number of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder cannot be ignored, especially in the Southeast region of Missouri where we have seen a 132 percent increase from 2003 to 2007 in school age identification alone,” Hebert said. “The presence of a diagnostic and treatment center at Southeast Missouri State University will not only allow the state to address the needs of this growing population, but will provide a way for Southeast Missouri State University to contribute to the field of research and expand academic programming related to preparing professionals across disciplines.  Our Center will uniquely feature a partnership between regional service providers and the University as a way to further collaboration for improved outcomes in Missouri, allowing individuals with autism and their families to access assessment and treatment more effectively and efficiently.”

For more information, updates on construction and other announcements, visit www.semo.edu/autismcenter.