Missouri’s autism centers could get state aid to end waiting lists for screenings (LISTEN)

by | May 4, 2022 | Health / Medicine, Legislature, News, Show Me Today

The names of more than 2,300 Missouri kids are sitting on a waiting list to determine if the children have autism. Gov. Mike Parson has requested $4.2 million in the next state budget to wipe out the waiting list for screenings at Missouri’s autism centers. The current budget plan includes even more – $6.3 million.

The state Legislature is working to pass the next state budget proposal by Friday’s deadline.

The price tag of the current state budget proposal is about $45 billion. Missouri House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to meet Wednesday to work out their differences.

Missouri Capitol

Dr. Stephen Sheinkopf, of the Thompson Center for Autism in Columbia, says the funding would help to recruit additional staff to screen these children.

“There’s a nationwide and very deep crisis in behavioral health services for all children, not just those individuals with autism,” he said. “I think in some ways the COVID-19 pandemic made some of those problems more stark and more visible, and the kinds of professionals who have the skill sets and knowledge to serve the specialized needs of people with autism and developmental disabilities are that much more precious and in demand. I think the biggest opportunity and challenge for all the autism centers is to support staff who can see children with these diagnostic questions and then to support the children and their families after the evaluation so that we can help children get to the services they need to thrive and to support their development.”

He talks about some of the roadblocks that are causing the worker shortage.

“I think part of the problem is that the numbers of people who have specific interests and skills in developmental disabilities is a finite number of people,” said Sheinkopf. “But across behavioral health services, reimbursement rates from third party payers, from insurance companies, for behavioral health services is really lacking. That makes it very hard for programs like the autism centers here in Missouri, and others nationally – it’s not just in Missouri – to adequately attract and support the skilled professionals that we need to work with families and children facing these challenges. So, the support that the state offers here in Missouri really goes a long way to help close some gaps and help us attract some good talent to our centers to work with these families.”

Missouri has autism centers in Columbia, Cape Girardeau, Kansas City, and St. Louis.

Sheinkopf says the older the children are, the longer the wait is at the Thompson Center.

“The waits can be longer and it depends on the center and depends on the time of year. But that’s certainly a next step for Thompson Center is to learn from how we succeeded in bringing down the waitlist for the very young kids and now to address those slightly older children as well,” he said.

To listen to the full Show Me Today interview with Dr. Sheinkopf, click below (13:13).

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