Growing up in St. Louis as the youngest of six children, Dr. Rose O’Donnell has always been used to being around kids. A lot of kids. But it wasn’t until she was in high school that she began to realize that people with special needs, both kids and adults, were who she wanted to spend her career working with.
In high school, O’Donnell volunteered for Team Activities for Special Kids (TASK), which is a sports camp for special needs children. She also volunteered for another camp, in which she worked with older individuals with special needs, which is what sparked her interest in pursuing a career that could help these people further.
“I always had an interest in psychology, and found such fulfillment spending time with people with special needs, but I discovered a passion for helping them as well,” O’Donnell said.
This led her to the University of Missouri where she earned her undergraduate degrees in psychology and sociology, as well as masters and doctoral degrees in school psychology. While working toward her doctorate, O’Donnell studied under Dr. Janine Stichter, a professor in the MU College of Education and an affiliated faculty member at the Thompson Center.
“I first experienced the Thompson Center when I participated in the Training in Interdisciplinary Partnerships and Services (TIPS) for Kids program,” O’Donnell said. “That program, which is housed at the Thompson Center, really helped open my eyes toward the possibility of working specifically with children. It was an awesome experience.”
After completing that program, O’Donnell was inspired to pursue further work at the Thompson Center, completing an internship under Dr. Brooks in the Thompson Center diagnostic clinic. This experience taught her how to diagnose autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in children. It also grew her love for the Thompson Center and its mission.
“I always knew the Thompson Center was an amazing place, but the opportunity to serve as an intern, working directly with patients and with the providers here really opened my mind to just how special it is,” O’Donnell said. “The atmosphere is unmatched in terms of everyone doing what is best for our patient families. That is always number one, and I loved that.”
After completing her studies, Thompson Center leaders made an effort to retain O’Donnell as a full-time faculty member and diagnostician. The choice was easy for her.
“I knew that at this early point in my career I still need mentorship and a place where I can continue to grow, and I definitely have that here,” O’Donnell said. “All of our amazing providers create that atmosphere of continued growth and everyone harbors the patient-first attitude that is so vital to everyone’s success.”
As an assistant clinical professor in the MU School of Health Professions and the Thompson Center, O’Donnell works in the diagnostic clinic, evaluating children of all ages to determine if they have autism spectrum disorder or some other neurodevelopmental disorder. It’s a job she has loved from the start.
“Children with autism, while challenging, can be really fun to work with,” O’Donnell said. “You never have the same day twice, you never know what will happen one moment to the next. Our patients provide a different perspective on the world, which is always interesting to see. I also love working with parents and families, to help provide them with answers and give them a path forward. It’s so rewarding.”
O’Donnell also is researching best ways to improve how the Thompson Center works with patients who speak English as a second language. Because of communication barriers, O’Donnell and Thompson Center faculty member Dr. Kerri Nowell are working to develop new clinic procedures to better provide care for those families. Because putting the patient first isn’t just O’Donnell’s mantra, it is the Thompson Center’s calling card.