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Arts for Autism comedy benefit debuts at Missouri Theatre

Photos by Shane Epping & Amber Garrett

By Adrienne Cornwall

COLUMBIA, MO (April 20, 2017) — Before a near-sellout crowd at the Missouri Theatre, comedians Kathleen Madigan and Lewis Black performed for the first Arts for Autism production benefiting the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at University of Missouri.

Hosted by the center’s fundraising arm, the Thompson Foundation for Autism, the event raised more than $100,000 to support the Thompson Center.

“Kathleen and Lewis were incredibly generous to agree to perform for this event and support children and families affected by autism,” said Thompson Foundation Executive Director Al Eberhard.

Arts for Autism is an expansion of the longstanding inclusive arts experience offered by the Thompson Center called Art for Autism, where children and their families join three weeks of art classes in the spring and fall. For the last three years, the classes have been held at Access Arts.

“We know many children with autism struggle with communication challenges, and many children are drawn to the visual, musical or performing arts as another way to express themselves,” said Thompson Center Executive Director Stephen Kanne. “Having the opportunity to offer a night of world-class standup comedy under that umbrella to the Columbia community has been a success beyond all of our expectations.”

In addition to the two headliners, the evening featured two amateur performers. Nathan Walton, a 20-year-old man with autism who has been a patient at the center for 17 years, performed his own piano arrangements while guests found their seats.

Madigan’s 9-year-old nephew, Patrick, also took the stage to test his comic prowess with a couple of jokes as his parents introduced Madigan as the final act.

Patrick’s mom, Ellie Madigan, shared with the crowd how much her family struggled to find help for the challenges Patrick was dealing with.

“The Thompson Center was the first place that said, ‘Yes, we know what it is, and we can help you.'”