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MU Offers a Unique Approach to Treating Autism

April is Autism Awareness Month

April 12, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — April is Autism Awareness Month, and the University of Missouri-Columbia continues to offer an innovative approach to helping families and children deal with the struggles associated with the disorder that affects one in every 150 children.

Autism is a developmental disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is characterized by problems with communication and relating to others, and repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. Autism is four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls; symptoms can range from mild to severe. For many individuals, autism is a lifelong disability; for others, there is improvement and the expectation of independence.

The MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders takes a cutting-edge approach by attacking the disorder from a variety of angles that include the help of physicians, psychologists, special educators, speech/language pathologists, occupational therapists, nurses and dieticians. The center will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its newly renovated Columbia facility at 9 a.m. on April 27, 2007.

"In addition to service delivery, we provide training to families and community professionals," said Janet Farmer, Thompson Center director. "For instance, we just sponsored an Autism Intervention Conference in which more 400 people learned about the latest evidence-based treatment approaches."

According to Farmer, young children require early diagnosis and intensive behavioral interventions, while school-aged children require specialized programs that focus on enhancing social and academic skills.

"Families consistently report that persons with autism spectrum disorders need a continuum of support services across the lifespan," Farmer said.

Additionally, the Thompson Center believes in the importance of family and professionals working together to help people with autism. Family members know more about their own children than anyone else. Professionals can share expertise, information and individualized recommendations for treatment options.

"Ultimately, caregivers must choose the best course of action for their child and family circumstances, but we are happy to provide guidance regarding approaches to intervention that are known to be effective," Farmer said.