Nixon opens new autism center in east Columbia

A new law requires health insurance companies to cover treatments for autism.
Gov. Jay Nixon speaks at the opening of new facilities at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders on Friday. Nixon said expanded treatments like those at the new center were the goal of an autism-related health bill he signed into law this summer.

Clipping together a pair of oversized scissors to sever a gold ribbon, Gov. Jay Nixon helped to open a renovated autism treatment center with a new director Friday morning in east Columbia.

The Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, an MU treatment center for the disease, reopened at 26,000 square feet, about 10,000 square feet larger than the previous building, according to an MU news release.

The expanded facilities will allow doctors to treat more patients, because it has two more exam rooms and five more therapy rooms, as well as a family resource center with toys, books and computers for autistic children.

Speaking to a crowd before the ribbon cutting, Nixon linked the opening of the new center to a law he signed over the summer that requires health insurance companies to cover autism treatments both at the center and in patient’s homes.

The therapies often involve intensive face-to-face interaction between patients and doctors, which can cost thousands of dollars. Nixon said patients, doctors and public officials had lobbied for the law’s passage.

“Together we said it was time for a change,” he said. “Together we passed a strong autism mandate and together we made sure those families will have access to the diagnosis and treatments they so dearly need. Because of our work, this center of excellence will continue to grow.”

Nixon said the law will expand treatments for teenagers and adults, through a program called Partnership for Hope. The law will allow patients to receive up to $12,000 in services with funding from the Missouri Department of Mental Health, county developmental disability boards and Medicaid funding.

“These are the older folks, the folks who are in their teens and in their twenties, the folks who have been gapped out,” he said. “Our law will further position Missouri and research centers like the Thompson Center to become national leaders in autism research and teaching.”

The center also named autism researcher Joel Bregman its new executive director. Bregman previously served as Director of Clinical Research at an autism center in New York, and developed an autism research center at Emory University in Boston. Bregman said the new programs at the Thompson Center drew him to the job.

"The Thompson Center's vision to develop integrated multidisciplinary assessment treatment programs is innovative and one of the key reasons why I was so interested in the position,” he said.

Bregman also emphasized that the new center, located on Portland Street in east Columbia, would appeal to younger patients and families to help treat diseases like autism sooner.

"The center's design provides a very welcoming environment for children and families while promoting the integration of clinical care, professional education and training and clinical research,” he said.

Chancellor Brady Deaton also spoke at the ceremony, and said the center’s improvements would help it conduct more cutting-edge research, and expand that care to families in Columbia and the rest of the state.

"We know under his leadership and our interdisciplinary culture, our goal is to create a center than can be a world leader in thinking and in translational work and in taking the latest knowledge in so many areas to bear on families for the well-being of children as we move to future," he said.

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