COLUMBIA — The MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders introduced its new facility to the public Friday.
Located at 205 Portland Drive, the center's new home boasts 26,000 square feet — almost twice the size of the old facility. Added therapy and examination will increase the visitor capacity from 2,000 to 9,000 people.
Patients will also have greater access to doctors through high-tech innovations such as Telehealth units.
Gov. Jay Nixon applauded the $5 million renovation that began in February.
"For five years the Thompson Center has been changing lives," Nixon said. "Today we’re making a new chapter."
William Thompson*, founder of the Thompson Foundation for Autism and the center's namesake, credited the state-of-the-art facility to a collaboration of state and federal governments, as well as MU and the Thompson Foundation.
"There is only one word that described my feeling when I walked into the building," Thompson said. "Wow."
The new center also welcomed its new executive director, Joel Bregman, who has a medical degree from Yale and has done extensive research on autism.
The Thompson Center treats patients with autism ages 3 to 22. Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, can be diagnosed as early as 18 months, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The median age of children diagnosed with autism is 5.5 years old for white children and 8.2 years old for black children, according to Missouri Autism Guidelines Initiatives.
The grand opening came just before a recently passed state-wide autism mandate takes effect Jan. 1.
Under the new law, Missouri became the 21st state where insurance companies must pay up to $40,000 annually for therapies for children diagnosed with autism. The coverage applies to families that receive group insurance through their employers, not those with individual health insurance.
One in every 110 children in America have autism, according to the Center for Disease Control. Recent data collected by the center also showed boys are four to five times more likely to have autism than girls.