The Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment celebrated 10 years of service and outreach to families in southeast Missouri during a commemoration today.
The Center, located at 611 N. Fountain Street in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, opened its doors in January 2010 and provides diagnostic and intervention services to families and individuals impacted by autism spectrum disorder.
“This Center has helped fill an enormous void and has been an invaluable resource to families across our region over the past decade,” said Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University. “Thanks to diagnostic and therapy services offered here, the facility has provided families access to assessment and treatment effectively and efficiently and is bettering the lives of those with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. I would like to extend our deep appreciation to Jason Crowell, who, as a former state senator led the effort to secure both capital and operational appropriations for the Center.”
Vargas also congratulated the Center staff for making a tremendous difference in the region, for providing high-quality services to those needing assistance and for mentoring Southeast students.
“We are extremely grateful the Center continues to provide our students with an outstanding training ground to learn the skills they need to be proficient care providers in this growing high demand area,” he said.
The $2.6 million facility, built on the site of the former Washington School in Cape Girardeau, was funded by the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative and approved by the Missouri General Assembly in 2007. The Center’s funding and development was made possible by the support and effort of many University, community and legislative officials, including former Sen. Jason Crowell, who helped lead the effort to secure both the capital and operational appropriations for the Center. Ground was broken on the new facility on Jan. 23, 2009, and the facility opened Jan. 4, 2010.
The Center has made a tremendous impact on nearly 2,000 clients during the past decade, many of whom receive more than one service at the Center. Clients, ranging in age from one to 69, come from 19 counties across the southeast Missouri region.
“We are so proud to provide access to services in an area with a limited number of providers,” said Dr. Renee Patrick, director of Southeast’s Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment. “We are the only comprehensive diagnostic center specializing in autism in the area, which is vitally important to the families we help.”
The Center provides a rich scope of services, including initial diagnostic evaluations and comprehensive re-evaluations for the purpose of identifying autism and various comorbid mental health diagnoses or speech/learning difficulties.
The facility also offers applied behavior analytic (ABA) interventions, psychotherapy and speech language pathology services, each with specific intervention programs, as well as cognitive behavioral therapy, Parent Child Interaction Therapy, RUBI Parent Training and teaching mindfulness skills.
The Center specializes in early intensive behavior intervention services and targeted interventions for school-aged children; and social cognition/social thinking, executive functions, and social skills camps that focus on social communication, language pragmatics and perspective taking.
“Our three behavioral analysts typically have a caseload of eight to 15 clients, and we currently have 15 behavioral technicians who assist them with implementing treatment,” Patrick said. “Our two speech language pathologists typically carry a case load of 10 to 15 clients and conduct one to two evaluations per week for a differential diagnosis of speech language disorders or to evaluate the appropriate use of augmentative and assistive technology. Our psychologists typically carry a caseload of five to 15 clients and conduct diagnostic evaluations, completing two to four evaluations per week.”
The Center and its services have made a difference for Cape Girardeau resident Michelle Crosnoe and her son Connor, who has been a client of the Center since 2013 when he was three years old.
“When he began treatment, he was barely verbal, and he spent most of his time disengaged,” Crosnoe said. “Behavioral therapy taught him how to interact with others. It also showed me how I could interact with my child in order to make every day a teachable time so that therapy was not confined to one room for one hour twice a week. In that way, it benefited not just my son, but me as well.”
Autism Center staff and analysts have made a positive impact on Connor and his family, Crosnoe said.
“I could go on forever about the benefit we’ve received through Elaine Beussink (speech language pathologist at the Center) and the speech program she’s done with him,” she said. “Her expertise and dedication and the talent she has to pull the best out of my son is truly remarkable. She’s insightful and capable in ways that show she’s in exactly the right profession. She’s supportive, collaborative and caring, and to be honest, that’s not the kind of therapist you find often in my experience. She has consistently moved Connor up the language ladder, from developing vocabulary, to creating sentences, to social thinking; she does it all. While I work with my child daily and know him best, she does things with him I absolutely cannot do. He would definitely suffer from not having her help, and her benefit, her influence on him, will last forever.”
The Center has been an important resource and support close to home for Kathy Gibbons’ son Andy, who has been a client of the Center since its opening.
“At the time our son was diagnosed with autism, specifically Hyperlexia, there were very few options available locally to receive therapy,” said Gibbons, of Cape Girardeau. “Even his diagnosis at the age of two had to be gotten in St. Louis (Missouri). When we learned that there would be an autism center which would encompass services from diagnosis through treatment at all stages of life, we were elated. Transitions are often difficult for our wonder-kids, so having to visit multiple locations only adds anxiety to an already stressful situation. The idea of having comprehensive services centrally located was extremely appealing.”
Andy, who is now 24, received musical and social skill therapy and recently has transitioned to serving as a volunteer at the Center, Gibbons said.
“To have a facility such as the Autism Center in our community has value beyond what most probably perceive it to have,” she said. “The parent who has just learned their child might possibly be struggling with a developmental disorder is terrified and wants to know how to best help their child. They need answers and compassionate guidance. The Autism Center does that for families. We are convinced that early interventions, such as those provided at the Autism Center, have allowed Andy to be as successful as possible.”
It also offers clinical training and practicum experiences for Southeast students majoring in nursing, psychology, counseling, applied behavior analysis and communication disorders. The Center also provides internship and work study opportunities for students majoring in a variety of disciplines, including marketing, early childhood education, criminal justice and social work.
The Center has also partnered with other agencies over the years including Judevine® Center for Autism-Southeast Project, now operating as Easter Seals; The Tailor Institute, and The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri–Columbia. Easter Seals is currently co-located in the Autism Center. The Center continues to be collegial with all its partners, regularly participates in Missouri Autism Centers (MOAC) meetings and is one of six MOAC centers supported by the state of Missouri.
The Center has enhanced and enriched its facilities and services, with upgrades to its playground area and offering Parent Child Interaction Therapy and RUBI Parent Training for parents of children with a new diagnosis or behavioral problems.
In the spring of 2016, the Center launched its “Building Block” program to provide center-based early intensive behavior intervention for children under five years old. The program specializes in providing applied behavior analytic (ABA) services, using principles of behavior analysis and the science of behavior in a preschool setting where children can interact with their therapists and each other.
The Center expanded its outreach to residents in the Missouri Bootheel last year and now provides its services at Southeast’s Sikeston Regional Campus. The programming helps meet a growing demand in the region for autism services without families needing to travel to Cape Girardeau.
The Sikeston facility provides early intensive intervention services through the Center’s Building Blocks Program; Speech Language Pathology using a push-in service for Language Acquisition through Motor Planning (LAMP) communication device users; and diagnostic evaluations for individuals seeking diagnostic clarification of Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Autism Center staff currently are serving both the Cape Girardeau and Sikeston locations. The Sikeston Center has hired a part-time staff member and in the future hopes to hire more local providers for its site.
The Center has been and remains an important resource for families across southeast Missouri.
“I can honestly say the benefit is ongoing,” Crosnoe said. “The Autism Center is a safety net, a floatation device in the turbulent ocean that is autism. It’s a shore after a shipwreck. Simply put, access to this resource has been the single greatest instrument of support, knowledge and treatment we have had.”