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New autism center to open

New autism center to open

Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 9:26 pm

Associated Press Writer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A new autism center slated to open next year in Cape Girardeau will allow families to have their children diagnosed close to home and bring therapy providers under one roof.
The Southeast Missouri State University Autism Center for Diagnosis and Treatment is tentatively scheduled to open in August of 2009 on the university’s campus.
Construction of the new center will be funded with $2.6 million from Gov. Matt Blunt’s Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, a partnership between the state and the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. About $480,000 in government funding will meet initial operating costs, the center’s interim director Connie Hebert said.
The university and two organizations that help those with autism — the Judevine Center for Autism Southeast Missouri and the Tailor Institute — will work out of the center.
“It primarily is designed to be a diagnosis center, to decrease the waiting list of families waiting to get a diagnosis,” Hebert said. She describes autism as a language-based disorder diagnosed in 1 out of 150 children in the United States. It affects children’s ability to communicate effectively and develop social skills and is associated with repetitive behaviors or having one area of high interest.
Currently, southeast Missouri families travel hours to St. Louis, Columbia or Memphis to learn if a child has autism. The new center’s diagnostic team will include a psychologist, behavior analyst, speech therapist and occupational therapist so families won’t have to go as far, or wait months, for a thorough diagnosis.
Area organizations say the region already does a good job providing therapy, but believe the new center will greatly help agencies to coordinate services.
Myra Bax, director of the Judevine Center for Autism Southeast Missouri, said the organization serves those of all ages in 19 southeast Missouri counties, with home visits, providing services to 190 to 230 families a month. She said that work will continue.
But the new center will provide onsite areas for speech, occupational and music therapy. Parents will also be able to take part in a three-week training program.
In it, Bax said parents will be able to observe a trainer work with their child using different techniques. After that, the trainer will be outside the room, coaching parents through an earpiece on methods that might help the child, like ways to transition a child to the next activity of the day.
The Tailor Institute in Cape Girardeau focuses on high-functioning autistic adults, exploring their area of giftedness and using their strengths to help them improve their communication, independence and job success.
One young man, for instance, with an exceptional memory is working part-time on a historical preservation project by archiving documents, said the institute’s director Elaine Beussink.
The institute is currently working with five autistic people and has been communicating with another five who may take part in the program. The new center will “be in its infancy” and require time to grow, she said, but added those involved are working to be at the cutting edge of efforts to help those with autism.
The center also will provide learning opportunities for Southeast Missouri State University students and aims to do research in the future, Hebert said.

Published in The Messenger 10.14.08

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