SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – The Arc of the Ozarks plans to unveil a new neurodevelopmental and autism center in Springfield.
The 1,600-square-foot sensory-focused center is slated to open in early 2024. Arc Executive Vice President Tim Dygon told The Heartlander autism rates continue to increase at an alarming rate, which calls for more readily available options for intervention.
According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 36 children were diagnosed with autism in the United States in 2023, while 1 in 41 of those cases originated in Missouri alone. Since 2000 the prevalence of autism has jumped 241%. Missouri will witness 40,000 children on the autism spectrum in this decade.
Dygon says one of the greatest challenges in the fight against autism is the availability of early intervention. Children are often placed on waiting lists for more than two years until evaluation availability opens up. Although the Springfield area contains multiple agencies capable of conducting evaluations, there are not enough to go around in a timely manner.
Evaluations take a considerable amount of time, with six hours of testing followed by report writing and patient follow-ups. The new center will run full-scale evaluations for 450 to 550 patients each year. Visitors to the center will receive ongoing therapy, in-house child psychiatry, pediatrician care, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, counseling and a slew of specialty services. The center will also see adult patients for neurodevelopmental needs.
The Arc received a $5 million 1-to-1 matching grant from the state of Missouri for building costs.
Arc of the Ozarks will soon begin to place outpatient therapy service clinics across southwest Missouri. Mountain Grove, Lebanon and Bolivar are the current cities scheduled for the neurodevelopmental clinics.
“To really get access to therapy a couple of days a week, we need to make sure that it is more readily available in the community in which they live,” Dygon said.
Services through the Arc are billed through commercial insurance and Medicaid, but Dygon says funding is available for children whose families do not have insurance resources. To gain access to treatments, an individual must first have a diagnosis.
“A kid’s brain changes more between birth and 5 than anytime in their life. We know it’s a precious time for a developmental perspective to use intervention to help those kids develop – whether it is speech, language, modifying behavior, learning new skills, social behavior skills. If a kid is suspected of having autism at age 3 and they can’t get in until age 5, you missed two years of time where you can really help that kid and those families from a developmental and intervention perspective.”
Additionally, Dygon says he believes the center is the start of great things to come and is eager to become a part of the solution in southwest Missouri for those with neurodevelopmental needs.
“We are hoping to help parents and families get better access, and we’re open to feedback too. We want to hear from everybody and to know what the needs are and meet them the best we can.”
To learn more about The Arc of the Ozarks, visit its website.