Autism Center in Joplin, Mo. Hopes to Rebuild

A three-year-old with autism points to fish in an aquarium, as part of an experiment on the effect of intensive shared-attention training on language development.

The Ozark Center for Autism in Joplin, Mo. says it remains committed to rebuilding its nationally-renowned program after the center was demolished by a deadly tornado that struck the city of Joplin last month, the Associated Press reports.

Paula Baker, chief clinical officer for Freeman Health System, which owns and operates the Ozark Center for Autism, told the Associated Press: "Obviously, it's been devastating. But we are committed to rebuilding the program. The tornado will never blow away our commitment to helping these children."

As word of the damage to the autism center spread, financial donations and pledges of support poured in from across the country. The Cleveland Clinic, which helped start the Ozark Center in Joplin, as well as local and regional agencies throughout Missouri are raising money to help with the center’s rebuilding efforts.

Meanwhile, the center has relocated to an indoor skate park until it moves again to another temporary location much closer to its now-demolished facility. Fewer families are able to reach the center’s current temporary location and staff members worry that progress in some children may be halted, according to the Associated Press. 

"The children will lose some of the skills they've gained if they're not seen immediately," Baker said in a statement to the Associated Press.

The center, which opened in October 2007, had recently added a diagnostic team and was expanding its services to include vocational training for adults.

The demolished center not only included the autism school, but housed residential and outpatient psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment units. Altogether, the center serves some 13,000 patients in a four-state region.

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