With a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” children, families and staff celebrated 10 years of autism services at Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. Since opening in 2007, staff has worked to improve the quality of life for nearly 1,000 children and families affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

The original structure at 2411 S. Jackson Ave. was destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado that devastated much of Joplin. However, a generous donation from Bill and Virginia Leffen in 2011 helped ensure the construction of a new facility that would offer innovative, state-of-the-art treatment for children with ASD. The new facility is located at 2808 S. Picher Ave.

“We have much to celebrate thanks to generous gifts from our caring donors and the dedication of our caring staff,” said Paula F. Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer. “On behalf of our staff, our students, our parents and all of those who have yet to be touched by our autism program, I express our most sincere gratitude to the many individuals and organizations who have opened their hearts to children with autism.”

Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism has continued to grow since its creation, adding daily living and prevocational skills classes to the curriculum and establishing a program that connects young adults with autism to employment opportunities. Most recently, a feeding clinic was established to help children with feeding issues, such as eating only a narrow variety of foods.

“Before Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, families of children with autism felt helpless,” said Vicky Mieseler, Ozark Center Chief Administrative Officer. “This facility gives hopes to families through evidence-based treatment in a compassionate, caring environment.”

“In the 10 years we have been open, we have had the privilege to winess many successes, big and small,” said Kristy Parker, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism Clinical Director. “We have watched little ones speak their first words and kiddos make friends in class and celebrate high school graduation. We have also been a shoulder to cry on when things aren’t going well, and we have been able to problem-solve alongside families to bring brighter days. We are grateful for each client and each family that allows us to join them on a leg of their journey.”

In addition to a family resource fair, tours of the facility, birthday cake, music and games, a mural created in collaboration with Art Feeds was unveiled. The Art Feeds Mural Curriculum is four weeks and leads children through the entire mural-making process.

The mural centers on the theme of diversity and features a quote from poet Maya Angelou: “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what.” A fabric version of the mural hangs inside Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, another was printed on fire-kiln tiles and installed on a stone wall outside.

Developed in consultation with the Cleveland Clinic Autism Consulting Group, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism provides Applied Behavior Analysis, an intensive therapy proven to unlock parts of the brain that control function such as language, emotion, social skills and interest. In 2010, a Special Education Center was created, expanding therapy services to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In 2011, the center established the Four States’ first Autism Diagnostic Team, which features the resources of an entire team of diagnostic professionals.

About Ozark Center

An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Mo., Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit ozarkcenter.com or call 417.347.7600.

About Freeman Health System
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2017, Freeman earned dozens of individual awards for medical excellence and patient safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. The Leapfrog Group awarded Freeman the highest grade possible in the Spring 2017 Hospital Patient Safety Score. With more than 300 physicians on staff representing more than 70 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit freemanhealth.com.