Regents Approve Conceptual Design, Location for Autism Center



July 8, 2008 – The Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents today approved a conceptual design for the future Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment and selected a site for the facility on the grounds of the former Washington School in Cape Girardeau.

The property is located at Middle and Mill streets. The 11,000-plus-square-foot center will be located on a grassy area adjacent to the school building in an area formerly serving as a playground.

Kathy Mangels, vice president for finance and administration at Southeast, said the space allows for future expansion and does not have the traffic noise that other sites being considered posed. She said construction materials and finishes for the building will be designed for serving the autistic population.

The new center will house numerous small and large diagnosis/therapy rooms with observation capabilities for family members, clinicians and students. Therapy rooms also will be developed for music therapy, occupational therapy and life skills training. The facility will include office space for each of four potential partnering institutions that will provide services at the center  – Southeast, The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri – Columbia, Judevine® Center for Autism-Southeast Project, and The Tailor Institute — in addition to conference and training space to be used for parent education, staff meetings and University instruction.

Mangels said the University will work with Mackey Mitchell Architects to finalize programming and administrative needs based on input from its partners and an advisory council of community members and service providers, and will present the Regents with a complete cost estimate for approval when the conceptual design is complete.

Several locations for the center were considered during April and May, she said. Design of the facility began shortly thereafter. The project’s partners will continue to meet over the next few weeks to help finalize the architectural plans for the facility as well as begin articulating the relationship the collaborative partners will share in working together.

Southeast Provost Jane Stephens said a committee created to explore the development of an Autism Center visited six autism centers last year to inquire about operations and facilities. Sites visited included: The Thompson Center; the Kennedy Center, Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders at Vanderbilt University; the Judevine® Center in St. Louis; the Kelly Autism Center at Western Kentucky University; and The Autism Program at Southern Illinois University. She said an additional visit was made in March of this year to the Ozark Center for Autism at Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Mo. The visits allowed the committee to begin creating a draft outlining the mission, personnel and facility requirements for the future.

In addition, several meetings were held with campus departments to discuss features of the center’s operations, Stephens said. Information from the visits was shared with members of the Advisory Council last October. The Advisory Council includes representatives of parents and families of individuals with autism, advocacy and support groups in the region, service providers in the region and school districts. In November, two public forms were held with invitations being extended throughout the region to parents and families of individuals with autism and to district personnel and other service providers. Feedback and input from these forums concerning priorities for services to individuals with autism and their families provided needed information to assist the University committee in shaping a first draft proposal.

As approved by the Missouri General Assembly in 2007, the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative included $2.6 million for an Autism Center at Southeast. When Southeast became aware of the state’s planned appropriation, a committee was created to explore the development of an Autism Center. Members of the committee are Dr. Marcia Brown-Haims of the Southeast Department of Communication Disorders, College of Health and Human Services; Dr. Kimberly Swedberg, compliance consultant; and Connie Hebert, improvement consultant from the Regional Professional Development Center, College of Education. This committee also was joined by Dr. Matt Stoelb of the Thompson Center, who provides services to families in the southeast region. The Advisory Council reconvened in February to review the first proposal that focused on a diagnostic and treatment center, Stephens said.

After that meeting, area service providers began discussing the potential for a collaborative effort that would reduce duplication of services, reduce wait lists for clients and assist families in accessing support more effectively and efficiently by sharing a facility among the four collaborative partners

In February, Hebert became the project coordinator for the Southeast Autism Center, and this month, she was named interim director, Stephens said. Hebert went to Jefferson City, Mo., in March to participate as a Southeast representative in the Autism Rally held at the state capitol, sharing in the celebration of legislative support for diagnostic and treatment efforts for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Missouri, she said.

On June 24, Blunt created the Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders and the Office of Autism Services. According to Stephens, the Commissioner of Higher Education will be a member of the commission, and one of the commission’s charges is to develop a recommendation for enlisting higher education institutions to ensure support and collaboration in developing certification or degree programs for students specializing in autism spectrum disorder intervention.