The early childhood education offerings at Missouri Southern State University will soon receive a major enhancement that will also benefit students and area families.
Construction is set to begin Nov. 9 on a center for applied behavior analysis in Taylor Hall. When complete, it will offer not only a hands-on learning center for students, but a major resource for families of children with autism or social, emotional and learning disabilities.
About 1 in 59 children in Missouri are identified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 70 percent of these children do not receive comprehensive development assessments by the age of 3, however.
A significant contributing factor to that deficit is the shortage of individuals trained to assess and treat those with ASD.
Dr. Ayla Schmick, assistant professor of psychology, says the impact the Missouri Southern program could have is enormous.
“First and foremost, when you have more than 500 kids on waitlists for two to three years, it means we can get in and provide those services earlier,” she said. “The earlier you can get those interventions in place, the more successful that individual will be in living an independent life.
“And it provides a fantastic opportunity for our students. Not only do they get the experience of working with these individuals one-on-one, but the gain an understanding of what the field of ABA is like by working in a clinic setting.”
There are currently 108 children served by the Lion Cub Academy at Missouri Southern. The addition of the ABA center will allow be able to serve an estimated 40 children.
There is currently a high demand for registered behavior technicians, and the university is working to help fill that need. By completing an introductory ABA course and practicum, students will be able to sit for the RBT board certification exam. Students will also have the opportunity to obtain a bachelor’s level national certification.
The center will be located on the second floor of Taylor Hall. The 4,200-square-foot section of the building was formerly home to the former Child Development Center, which in 2017 was renamed the Lion Cub Academy and moved to a newly renovated building that shares space with the Joplin Regional Center.
When complete, it will include a sensory room, a parent consultation/resource room, an independent living skills center, and rooms focused on social skills and therapy, as well as an outdoor learning area.
Lorinda Hackett, dean of the School of Education, sees the center as a benefit for existing providers in the community.
“The demand for facilities to help children with autism is huge,” she says. “There are a lot of places that offer services, but this could be a real collaborative effort for these organizations to work together and provide an organized path to services – on top of the clinic and degrees we’ll offer.”
The university will be completing the work in-house. The total cost is an estimated $470,519.47 – which will be covered by a Child Care in Higher Education grant through the Missouri Department of Social Services. The autism support program was also recently approved for $231,945 through a MoExcels Workforce Initiative grant for FY 2021; those funds are on hold, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project is expected to take two to three months to complete.