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Our compassionate and knowledgeable team is here to address your unique needs and provide the best possible care for your child’s neurodevelopmental journey.

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Teaching for a stronger community.

We are here to equip learners with the essentials skills needed to create positive change in the lives of people with developmental differences.

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Researching for a better tomorrow.

Our goal is to unlock discoveries that will revolutionize the lives of individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental diagnoses.

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We’re here to help.

Our compassionate and knowledgeable team is here to address your unique needs and provide the best possible care for your child’s neurodevelopmental journey.

Learn more

Teaching for a stronger community.

We are here to equip learners with the essentials skills needed to create positive change in the lives of people with developmental differences.

Learn more

Researching for a better tomorrow.

Our goal is to unlock discoveries that will revolutionize the lives of individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental diagnoses.

Learn more

Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment

205 Portland Street, Columbia, MO 65211

573-884-6052

Thompson Foundation, ACE Program Receive Local Impact Grant

The Thompson Foundation for Autism & Neurodevelopment was awarded the Autism Speaks 2023 Local Impact Grant. The funding will go towards funding the Thompson Center’s Accessing Career Experiences (ACE) program. This grant was awarded to 23 organizations from 13 states that serve the autism community.

What is ACE?

ACE is a nine-month post-secondary employment program that offers independence and employment skill development for individuals 18-30 years old with autism and an intellectual disability. Components of ACE are direct instruction led by a behavior analyst, on the job coaching, and resume and interview skill development. Jennifer DeLaporte, ACE program coordinator and behavior analyst at the Thompson Center, said that ACE is a passion project for her: “It’s a program that creates access to career experiences and an opportunity for individuals to gain skills that they are capable of with the support that they need.” This is ACE’s first year and Jennifer has hopes to continue to expand in the coming years.

ACE’s Impact on the First Cohort

When discussing the impact that the ACE program has had on the two participants, Jordan Mayes and Taylor Wainscott, Jennifer said, “I have really seen them grow in their confidence and be able to push themselves outside of their comfort zone.” Among other things, Jordan says the ACE program taught him “how to host a podcast, how to make a resume, a PowerPoint presentation, an email, and how to put things on a calendar.”

Jordan Mayes (left) and Jennifer DeLaporte (right) recording an episode of the Thompson Center’s podcast, Supporting The Spectrum.
Taylor Wainscott (right) interviews Matthew Leach (left) and his sister Miss Missouri 2023 Hayley Leach (center) about supporting siblings with autism for an episode of Supporting The Spectrum.

Not only did this program impact Jordan and Taylor, Jennifer also mentioned the impact the participants have had on the Thompson Center during their time working here. “We are an autism center and so I expect for us to be inclusive,” said Jennifer, “but to see that take place has been really amazing.” Working with Jordan and Taylor has helped the Thompson Center to be an even more inclusive workplace.

Local Impact Grant

The grant from Autism Speaks will allow the ACE program to purchase iPads that will be used to develop technology skills and implement video modeling to teach helpful skills. This semester, the grant provided a stipend for Jordan and Taylor for their work that they did at the Thompson Center as part of the ACE program. This grant was also used to fund pre- and post-assessments of ACE to monitor progress, as well as provide a budget for events and speakers for the program. And finally, this grant will be able to help any applicants who may need financial assistance to participate next year.

“Autism Speaks sought to fund programs that would ‘provide a measurable impact on the lives of those who participate.’ Being employed is a major factor in adult quality of life, and research estimates that only 10-50% of autistic adults are employed,” said Katie Lynn, former director of donor relations at the Thompson Foundation. “ACE allows individuals with both autism and intellectual disability to gain employment skills with specialized training to meet their needs and support their goals. Through ACE, participants will be well-equipped for competitive employment through hands-on training and direct skill instruction, which should improve their quality of life.”

Parents of ACE participants share their perspectives on the program’s impact at the spring 2024 Thompson Foundation board meeting.

Another Local Impact Grant Awarded in Columbia

Out of the 23 organizations across the U.S., two organizations in Columbia, Missouri were chosen to receive this grant from Autism Speaks. Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center was also a recipient. Cedar Creek has been providing equine therapy to children with autism for 36 years. “We have seen our riders improve cognitive functioning and reach goals that change the quality of their life,” said Karen Grindler, the executive director of Cedar Creek. “We are grateful to Autism Speaks for providing equestrian therapy for our riders in need.” With this grant Cedar Creek is able to provide scholarships to individuals with autism who do not have the funding available from other sources. 

2024-2025 ACE Cohort

Congratulations to Jordan and Taylor, who graduated from ACE on Friday, May 10, 2024!

As the 2023-2024 ACE cohort celebrates completion of the program, applications are available for the cohort set to begin Fall 2024. Learn more about how to apply on the ACE webpage of the Thompson Center website.

ACE participants Taylor (left) and Jordan (right) with program coordinator Jennifer DeLaporte (center) at the ACE graduation, May 10, 2024.

Meet Our New Director: Dr. Connie Brooks

Last week, Dr. Connie Brooks was appointed the new executive director of the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment. She takes over for Dr. Stephen Sheinkopf, who will continue as a valued member of the Thompson Center team as he returns his focus to his research projects. Dr. Brooks has been an integral part of the Thompson Center since she joined in 2015 and then became a member of the executive leadership team in 2020. Get to know Dr. Brooks below as she discusses her background, her passions, and her vision for the future of the Thompson Center.

Tell us a little bit about your academic and professional background.

I’ve been a Mizzou tiger since my undergraduate studies and received my Ph.D. in 2007. My internship, postdoctoral residency, and first faculty position were with the Assessment and Consultation Clinic at MU where I specialized in trauma, the foster care system, psychological evaluations, and clinical supervision. In 2015, I transitioned to the Department of Health Psychology and the Thompson Center as the Health Professions Division Director and a few years later became the Director of the Missouri LEND program, TIPS for Kids. In 2019, I was honored to be part of the interim Executive Leadership team, alongside Dr. Ben Black and Abby Powell, when our former Executive Director, Dr. Steve Kanne, took a position in New York.

How did you become involved in the field of autism and neurodevelopment?

It’s a funny story, actually. Several years ago, Dr. Kanne asked me to present to the Thompson Center on working with foster children, due to my expertise in that area. Following that lunch talk, he asked me if I’d considered working with children with autism. I told him that neurodevelopmental concerns seemed complicated and that I wasn’t sure I was up for it, but he easily convinced me to come shadow at the center. After shadowing a few clinics, I fell in love—with these patients, with their families, and with the Thompson Center and its people. Shortly thereafter, I accepted a part-time position to see patients, put in many hours of training and learning about autism and neurodevelopmental disorders, and was hired for a full-time position shortly thereafter. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What are you most passionate about at the Thompson Center?

I’m passionate about quite a few things, so narrowing it down can be tricky. However, I think it’s vital that the Thompson Center continue to be innovative clinical leaders in terms of complex patient needs. Our focus in this area is reflected in our launch of several specialty clinics including the Foster Care Autism Diagnostic Clinic, Rare Disease Clinic, and the Multilingual/Lingually-Diverse Autism Diagnostic Clinic. We’re also piloting a program with collaboration between our medical and applied behavior analysis (ABA) teams, using precision medicine strategies with patients in our Severe Behavior Clinic. Additionally, we continue to expand and strengthen our long-standing multi-disciplinary medical clinics (Cerebral Palsy Clinic, Down Syndrome Clinic, and NICU Follow-Up Clinic) which allow families a “one-stop shop” to see many medical specialists for their child in one day and in one place.

When I think about training at the Thompson Center, I honestly think it is one of the most underrated areas of our work. Throughout the center, we provide training to students at all levels, ranging from undergraduate through fellowship, in a wide variety of disciplines, and in clinical service and research. There simply aren’t enough clinical providers with expertise in pediatrics or in neurodevelopmental disorders, so we intend to grow the next generation of providers through our clinical training and through programs such as the MO LEND program, TIPS for Kids. It’s clear we’re making a dent as just last year we provided clinical training to more than 90 students!

Additionally, I’d like to highlight our Training Core who provides free professional webinars, in-school consultation, caregiver/patient modules, Autism Friendly Business training, and our annual conferences for professionals and for parents. My current favorite program provided by the Training Core is the ACE program: Accessing Career Experiences. This post-secondary employment program is for individuals with autism and an intellectual developmental disability and was piloted this past year with great success! ACE is the sister program to STRIVE (Self-Determined Transition Readiness Through Individual Vocational Experiences) which focuses on employment and life skills development for adults with autism. Both programs are accepting applications, by the way!

Frankly, research at the Thompson Center is mind-blowing. Not only do we have an amazing Research Core team which supports internal and external research partners with their expertise, we are running clinical trials, patient-centered projects, and genetic analyses. One of the most impressive components of our research is cross-collaboration; we are proud to partner across disciplines, across departments, and across the nation and the world. Equally important is our value of including self-advocate and family-advocate voices in our research projects and we’re pleased to be establishing more structures toward that purpose.

What has been your favorite thing about working at the Thompson Center?

Finally, an easy question to answer! It’s the people, without a doubt. I love working alongside our Thompson Center team, I love our patients and their families, and I love our collaborative partners. Every day is challenging but we’ve all got the same goal—to help our patients be their best. I feel so fortunate to work with a team that feels the same that I do about the families we serve. We get to make a difference in the world, and we get to do it together.

What are your top priorities for the Thompson Center moving forward?

Our highest priority is two-fold. First, our goal is to recruit more staff and faculty as we prepare to open our new building, balanced with retention of our current staff and faculty who are already making an impact. Additionally, it’s no secret that our diagnostic waitlists are long, like so many autism centers around the nation. Revamping our diagnostic processes, and expanding our wraparound services and training, is vital for our success. Moreover, we need to continue on our path of integrating our work in all three areas of focus—clinical care, training, and research—as we innovate and expand. We want the Thompson Center to be THE place where families want to be seen, students want to be trained, and researchers want to explore.

April Events Calendar

April is World Autism Month and the Thompson Center has lots of events planned to celebrate! Keep track of all of our World Autism Month activities for patients, families, and our community with our April calendar.

Click here for a printable PDF

Thompson Center World Autism Month events:

Click here to browse all upcoming Thompson Center events

Celebrating National Rare Disease Day at the Thompson Center

This week, the Thompson Center is observing National Rare Disease Day! To honor Rare Disease Day, we would like to highlight the Thompson Center’s Rare Disease Clinic and the individuals with rare diseases and their families.

The Orphan Drug Act defines a rare disease as a disease that affects less than 200,000 people in the United States. The Thompson Center’s MU Child Neurologic Rare Disease Clinic is specifically focused on serving patients who have neurodevelopmental conditions associated with neurological conditions. Many of the patients seen at the clinic have specific genetic differences associated with those conditions. The goal of the Rare Disease Clinic at the Thompson Center is to provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for patients with complex clinical presentations. Most of the patients in the Rare Disease Clinic are seen by a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, a child neurologist, a genetic counselor, and a social worker. This team-based approach to the clinic allows for the diagnostic and treatment plan discussion to be streamlined and minimizes travel and time spent in individual appointments for the families. 

An example of a rare disease that you may be familiar with is Angelman Syndrome. This is a rare neuro-genetic disorder that affects the 15th chromosome from the mother. This disorder occurs in 500,000 people worldwide or 1 in every 15,000 births. Some common characteristics and symptoms of this disorder are walking and balance disorders, gastrointestinal issues, seizures, and little to no speech. Individuals with this disorder are also often characterized as happy, smiley, and often excitable. This is just one example of many known rare diseases that affect between 25 and 30 million Americans.

We would like to highlight one of the families that is part of our Rare Disease Clinic, John Irvin and his grandmother Delinda Irvin. They started coming to the Rare Disease Clinic in 2022 after a recommendation from Dr. Liu Zhao at the Pediatric and Adolescent Specialty Clinic. Delinda said that she felt overwhelmed by all of the medical information she was receiving and wasn’t sure what to do. After John’s first visit with the Rare Disease Clinic, she could feel the support from the Thompson Center staff and especially from Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics fellow, Dr. Katie Blount. She felt heard and seen and was given direction on next steps for their family. Delinda says that since they have been coming to the Rare Disease Clinic, John has been able to walk better, not wear his leg braces, and is able to understand things better. This is just one of the wonderful families that the Rare Disease Clinic at the Thompson Center has an impact on.

The Rare Disease Clinic is an important service provided at the Thompson Center and reflects the three main areas of our mission: clinical care, research, and education. Thompson Center Director of Medical Services Dr. Benjamin Black says that this clinic “allows our core Thompson Center team to collaborate directly with other providers, thereby expanding our clinic impact. Having this type of clinic also opens up more opportunities for us from a research perspective.” Not only does this clinic provide care for families, but it also provides training experience for our trainees in many disciplines, including fellows in developmental-behavioral pediatrics, medical students, pediatric residents, psychology trainees, and many more. “We’ve all learned a lot through our clinical care in the Rare Disease Clinic, and that helps us all become better at what we do,” said Dr. Black.

Thompson Center Trainers Travel to D.C., Hawaii

Several Thompson Center Training Core team members spent January on-the-go. To kick off 2024, Thompson Center Training Core Director Cortney Fish, Autism Training Specialists Jaclyn Benigno and Julie Muckerman, and Behavior Analyst Jennifer DeLaporte traveled to Washington, D.C. where they trained 20 businesses in Loudoun County as part of the Autism Friendly Business program. This initiative provides training for businesses so that all families in their community can feel welcomed and supported. The Thompson Center did its first training for businesses in Loudoun County back in 2015. One of the businesses they did the training for this year was the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Check out the out-of-this-world photos they took while they were at the museum!

The following week, the four Training Core staff members joined Thompson Center Speech-Language Pathologist Michelle Dampf in Honolulu, Hawaii for the 25th International Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disability & Developmental Disabilities. The conference featured the most current research and practice recommendations related to improving educational outcomes for individuals with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities. This year’s focus was on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice with more than 400 interactive lectures, panels, roundtables, poster presentations, networking socials, and so much more to participate in.

Several of the Thompson Center representatives presented their research at this conference as well. Michelle and Mizzou faculty member Dr. Jena Randolph presented on effective speech-generating device use and autism spectrum disorder. Through their research, they gained insight into the barriers that professionals face when teaching children with complex communication needs. Overall, Michelle said that she was impressed with the quantity and quality of information provided at the conference to help improve her professional knowledge.  

Cortney and Jaclyn presented Striving For Tomorrow: Transition to Employment for Students with Autism. The presentation was about STRIVE, a post-secondary education and independence program tailored for 18- to 30-year-olds with autism or similar diagnoses. Jennifer and Julie attended the conference for professional development opportunities.

Autism Training Specialist Received MU Staff Advisory Council Award

Congratulations to Thompson Center Autism Training Specialist Julie Muckerman on receiving the MU Staff Advisory Council Spring 2024 Education Award! The intention of this award is to assist staff members’ personal and professional development by providing funding for classes and courses of higher education.
Muckerman is enrolled in the Post-Baccalaureate Communication Sciences and Disorders program at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. This program is tailored for those aiming to become licensed speech-language pathologists with a non-related undergraduate background. With this award, Muckerman will receive funding to participate in a course about sign language this spring. She is passionate about accessible and varied forms of communication for autistic individuals. Through her experience at the Thompson Center, she has learned the importance of adapting her communication style to provide better support for these individuals.

2023 Year In Review

Take a look back at some of the biggest accomplishments at the Thompson Center in 2023. After an amazing year, we’re looking forward to continued growth and improvement in 2024!

2023 At A Glance

January

  • We hosted the grand opening of our therapy clinic and began seeing patients in the new space.
  • Along with the Thompson Foundation, we had our first autism night with Mizzou Basketball.

February

March

  • The first Thompson Center Spring Research Symposium was held at the NextGen Precision Health Building.
  • We held our first cohort of SibWorks, a group for child/teen siblings of people with autism.
  • Ronald McDonald House’s “Lunch On The House” program expanded to deliver 17 lunches each week to children in ABA therapy programs at the Thompson Center.
  • Our research team launched the biomarker study.
  • The Training Core hosted its annual STRIVE open house and self-advocate webinar series.
  • Members of our training team presented at the Council for Exceptional Children Conference in Louisville, KY.

April

May

  • Several Thompson Center researchers traveled to and presented at the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) conference in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • The Thompson Foundation was the nonprofit beneficiary of a World Cubing Association event held in Columbia.
  • The Thompson Center and Mason Eye Clinic partnered to provide free vision screenings to children with autism, thanks to the support of the Healthy Vision Association.
  • The Thompson Center hosted Brunch & Belonging to bring together Columbia community leaders to discuss becoming an Autism Friendly City.

June

  • Dozens of speech-language pathologists came to the Thompson Center for SLP Autism Immersion Day.
  • Our Foster Care Clinic doubled its capacity.

July

  • The Thompson Center hosted Early Childhood Autism Professional Development Day.

August

  • The Thompson Foundation purchased three speech generating devices, enabling us to launch our TALK program.
  • TIPS for Kids hosted a carnival for trainees to meet their family shadowing partners.
  • AutismEYES research study met its 100 participant recruitment goal.

September

October

  • The new thompsoncenter.missouri.edu went live.
  • Dozens of families trick or treated at the Thompson Center.
  • The EarliTec research study had its first participant.

November

December

  • Santa made his annual visit to the Thompson Center and saw nearly 30 families.
  • The Thompson Center and Mason Eye Clinic partnered to provide free vision screenings to children with autism, thanks to the support of the Healthy Vision Association.
  • The Thompson Foundation held an open house with Love Coffee.

Santa Visits the Thompson Center

For the last 11 years, Santa has made a special stop at the Thompson Center to provide a holiday experience with some extra support and consideration for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions.

Visiting Santa can be an overwhelming experience. There’s a lot of pressure when meeting a legend, especially one who determines the naughty and nice lists! Traditional meet-and-greets with St. Nick, like those at shopping malls or department stores, usually involve music, loud sounds, and large crowds. This can be too much for some children with autism.

The Thompson Center team works diligently to provide a magical holiday experience with the needs of neurodivergent children in mind. Visits with Santa are by appointment only, which eliminates the throngs of people and time spent waiting in a line. The waiting room has holiday treats, coloring pages, and a movie playing softly to pass the time until the big man and his elf are ready to see them in the North Pole room. The North Pole is small enough to provide a sense of intimacy and prevent elopement, but large enough that children who feel overwhelmed or fearful can interact with Santa from a distance. Lora Hinkel, a.k.a. the pink elf, is a speech-language pathologist, Thompson Foundation board member, and parent of a son with autism and a son with ADHD. Thompson Center patients may recognize the portrait photographer from previous Santa visits or from clinic appointments; Tammy Hickman has been a nurse at the Thompson Center for more than 15 years. In addition, at least one of the North Pole helpers is trained in crisis intervention and available to assist if a behavioral issue escalates.

Thanks to generous support from the Thompson Foundation, each child received a personalized gift from Santa during their visit. Each family was also given a copy of “Frankie and Finn,” a book co-authored by Miss Missouri Hayley Leach and her brother, Matthew. In honor of Matthew, Hayley’s platform is autism awareness and acceptance.

News coverage of Santa’s visit is available from KOMU.

Unveiling the Journey of Discovery: Clinical Trials at the Thompson Center

This story appears in the Fall 2023 issue of DISCOVERY, the Thompson Center’s research newsletter. Find more content like this on our DISCOVERY webpage.

At the Thompson Center, our dedicated research team is paving the way in understanding and addressing the complexities of autism. Among the many studies the team has been involved in over the last few years are several clinical trials. Samantha Hunter, the Thompson Center’s Clinical Trials Manager, simplifies the complexity of clinical trials: “A clinical trial is a study where researchers test the safety and effectiveness of interventions such as medications or devices on human health outcomes.” The essence of these studies lies in their potential to unveil new pathways in healthcare. “The different medications we use today in modern medicine were made possible through volunteers completing clinical trials,” said Hunter. Dr. Benjamin Black, Director of Medical Services and researcher at the Thompson Center, says that these volunteers, or research participants, are one of the hallmarks of working on clinical trials. “In clinical research, we think of our patients and families as partners with us, and we’re all investigating together to see if something really works.”

Recent Clinical Trials at the Thompson Center

Yamo: Collaborators from the pharmaceutical company and academia initiated this multi-side study of a new medication’s effects on core characteristics of autism, specifically interpersonal relationships, play and leisure, and coping skills. PI: Dr. David Beversdorf & Dr. Tom Megerian, Chief Medical Officer and Executive Vice President of Clinical Development for Yamo Pharmaceuticals.

MapLight: Industry-sponsored, multi-site study investigating the effects of ML-004 on core characteristics of autism, focusing particularly on challenging outcomes like agitation and aggression. PI: Dr. Benjamin Black, Co-I: Dr. David Beversdorf.

tVNS: Pilot study determining if transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS), which involves a small device that gives electric stimulation to an area behind the ear, should be further studied for therapeutic treatment of anxiety and sleep problems in children and teens with autism. PI: Dr. Benjamin Black, Co-I: Dr. David Beversdorf.

Propranolol: Thompson Center study examining the effects of the beta-blocker on anxiety in people with autism. PI: Dr. David Beversdorf.

COMBO: Thompson Center feasibility study looking at changes in anxiety when autistic individuals combine propranolol with ABA therapy. PI: Dr. David Beversdorf.


A Glimpse Into Recent Trials


Recent studies at the Thompson Center have focused on pivotal outcomes linked to social communication and anxiety, two significant domains impacting many autistic individuals. These trials aim to tackle challenges such as agitation, aggression, and the often medication-resistant nature of anxiety among this population. Dr. David Beversdorf, a Thompson Center researcher, welcomes this new approach. “Many studies look at conditions that exist alongside autism,” said Dr. Beversdorf, referring to past research projects that studied outcomes like sleep and gut health, “but these are some of the first we’ve done that focus on the core characteristics of autism.”

The table above summarizes five of the Thompson Center’s recent clinical research studies. These trials vary widely in their scopes and methodologies. For instance, the propranolol study engaged nearly 70 participants over a span of three years, while small COMBO and tVNS pilot studies focused on whether larger studies on these therapeutic agents should be conducted in the future. The industry-sponsored Yamo and MapLight trials have 10 or fewer participants enrolled through the Thompson Center, but are part of larger multi-site studies; the other projects are housed within the Thompson Center, thus giving our researchers more opportunities for input into the design of the study.

Challenges in Clinical Research


One challenge of recruiting participants for these studies is balancing eligibility criteria with existing treatments. For example, in the cases of the Thompson Center’s clinical trials where anxiety is a primary outcome being investigated, participants are ineligible if they are already taking antidepressants or SSRI medications. Families and individuals may also have reservations about trying new medications or therapies, which adds layers of intricacy to the recruitment process. New medications, like the one tested in the Yamo study, may be the first thing to come to mind for clinical trials. However, clinical trials are also used to investigate new uses of already established drugs. The medication tested in the MapLight study is a reformulation of a drug that is often prescribed for migraines. Propranolol is an inexpensive drug already used for test anxiety, migraines, and even for hemangiomas in infants. tVNS is not a medication at all and is believed to have less potential for side effects.

Clinical trails are also uniquely challenging because of the strict protocols they must follow. “Clinical trials are different from other types of studies as there is additional oversight provided by the FDA,” Hunter explains. “They often take many years to complete as there are different stages to go through to thoroughly test the safety and efficacy of an intervention.” Dr. Richard (Rick) J. Barohn, Executive Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and Hugh E. and Sarah. D. Stephenson Dean of the MU School of Medicine emphasizes that these procedures central to the integrity of the research. “Upholding the highest ethical standards, they prioritize participant safety while facilitating collaboration among experts, industry, and academia.” To help University of Missouri researchers rise to this challenge. Dr. Barohn started the Clinical Research Study Coordinator Bootcamp. This program gives researchers and their support staff the foundational knowledge needed to successfully run clinical trials.

Partnering with Patients


Despite the challenges that accompany clinical research, the Thompson Center team shares an enthusiasm for these studies. Participating in clinical trials often gives patients and families access to therapies they may not have been able to try otherwise. Hunter recalls the impact of working on the propranolol study, “several individuals benefitted from taking propranolol during the open label extension and it was amazing to see the medication work for them.” The MapLight study has a similar open label extension where individuals are guaranteed to receive the active study medication to determine if it is a good fit for them. Building relationships with patients and families stands out as a favorite aspect for many involved. “Our patients tend to be really invested in the research, from a personal standpoint of getting benefits of a particular therapy, but many of them are invested because of the potential contributions to the greater good,” Dr. Black said. “Even if it doesn’t help their family immediately, the idea of being part of something that benefits other people down the road is really special.”

What’s Next?


As ongoing trials eagerly await results, Thompson Center researchers look forward to the next steps in their clinical explorations. Dr. Black aims to expand the study of tVNS to new sites, including the University of Cincinnati and Children’s Hospital of Orange County, pending approval of funding from the Department of Defense. Dr. Beversdorf’s hopes his research will address the broad range of autism characteristics by identifying subgroups within the autistic population. Perhaps identification of biomarkers unique to certain groups of people with autism will guide them to promising therapies that may not work for people on other areas of the spectrum. Meanwhile, the Thompson Center is still recruiting adults aged 18-45 with autism spectrum disorder for MapLight with the goal of eventually expanding the study to include teenage participants. As the journey continues, the Thompson Center’s researchers continue to display unwavering commitment to unraveling the complexities of autism to not only shape future interventions but foster a community of support for people with autism and their families.

2023 Top PIQ Nominees

Throughout the year, the Thompson Center PIQ program recognizes our team members for a professionalism, initiative, and quality (PIQ). Employees can send their colleagues “PIQ cards” that celebrate instances of excellence in these three areas. Each year the Thompson Center selects one person to receive the Top PIQ Award. This year’s nominees were Jennifer Truelove, LPN; Ali Cooper, BCBA; Dr. John Hall, psychiatrist; Shelby Hert, social worker; and Lauren Sapp, psychometrist. Here are what each of their nominators had to say about them:

Jennifer Truelove, LPN – 2023 Top PIQ Recipient

Read more about Jen in this post.

Ali Cooper, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA

  • Ali has taken on new duties this year in becoming a Senior Behavior Analyst, including clinical supervision, waitlist management, and covering for the ABIS Director.
  • This year, Ali has volunteered for multiple LINK presentations, a program through the Thompson Center training core that offers continuing education for BCBAs.
  • Ali is a lead on the Thompson Center’s Safety Care Team and a member of the Building Up Morale (BUM) committee.
  • Ali teaches an ABA undergraduate practicum course at the University of Missouri. This year, she stepped up to teach a master’s level course in the spring when more instructors were needed.
  • Ali collaborates with other divisions in many ways, including hosting observers for the Severe Behavior Clinic and consulting with the medical team for the new ABA/medical clinic.
  • Ali is always willing to help with odds-and-ends tasks as well, such as repairing bean bags with the sewing kit she keeps in her desk.
Ali holding her nomination certificate alongside the other Thompson Center BCBAs

John Hall, M.D.

  • As the Thompson Center’s only psychiatrist, Dr. Hall is one of the clinic’s busiest physicians.
  • Dr. Hall trains the next generation of child and adolescent psychiatrists through continuity clinics.
  • Dr. Hall is known for providing expert and compassionate care.
  • Dr. Hall’s colleagues seek out his thoughtful consultation, which elevates the care provided to our patients.
  • The ongoing hallway Scrabble and chess matches between Dr. Hall and Dr. Lasseter brings joy to team members throughout the center.
Dr. Hall’s surprised reaction to learning he was nominated for the Top PIQ award
Dr. Hall displaying his certificate of nomination with other Thompson Center medical team members

Shelby Hert, LMSW

  • The Thompson Center’s new Family Resource Services team was established and supervised by Shelby this year.
  • Shelby is passionate about supporting families and engaged in the Thompson Center’s mission.
  • Her expertise is essential for guiding families through challenging situations.
  • Shelby is prompt in her communication, thorough in task completion, and willing to fill in wherever she is needed.
  • Shelby’s work helps every division at the Thompson Center in one way or another.
Dr. Black presents Shelby with her nomination certificate while she attends the medical division meeting via Zoom
Members of the Thompson Center’s medical team surround a TV screen showing Shelby on a Zoom call after her Top PIQ nomination is announced

Lauren Sapp, B.S.

  • As a psychometrist, Lauren administers complex assessments with compassion and patience.
  • Lauren has effectively worked with patients that other parties have deemed “untestable” and “immeasurable.”
  • Lauren is Research Reliable on the ADOS-2, which allows her to support the Thompson Center’s CASE clinic and work across clinical divisions.
  • Lauren trains and mentors other psychometrists, trainees, and even some providers when learning new measures.
  • Lauren has been involved in many of the Thompson Center’s recent innovations, including the foster care clinical team and leading organization of test protocols and materials.

Congratulations to all this year’s Top PIQ nominees! It is because of your professionalism, initiative, and quality that our center succeeds in our mission to support individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions, as well as their families.

Lauren displays her nomination certificate surrounded by members of the Thompson Center’s health professions team
Lauren holds her certificate alongside the health professions division director and her fellow psychometrists