Cover Stories

Critical Growth: Thompson Foundation for Autism

Big things are happening at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri-Columbia. A new leader is set to take the helm, overseeing the center’s growth and funding efforts that will allow the organization to serve young people well into the future.

These developments mark a period of progress for the center, which is committed to meeting an increasing need for autism services and programs, says medical director Dr. Benjamin Black. “Our new executive director, Stephen Sheinkopf, arrives in late September from Brown University,” he says. “We chose him to lead the center after a nationwide search, and we are looking forward to welcoming him.”

Black says Sheinkopf’s research background will benefit the center’s clients. “We have plans to grow rapidly, and his knowledge and expertise will help us do that,” he notes. “He has done a great deal of work in the identification of markers associated with autism spectrum disorders.” Sheinkopf’s research interests include studying how the vocalizations of newborns may foretell a later autism diagnosis.

According to Black, the center is seeing an increase in the number of families who need its services, so it has immediate plans to expand under Sheinkopf’s leadership. “We are renovating a portion of our existing building that formerly was leased out,” Black says. “It will become clinical space for our applied behavioral analysis team.”

Black says the new space will increase the center’s ability to help clients with behavioral concerns. “They can meet regularly with specialists at the facility, and families can receive training and help with their communication skills,” he explains. “There is a great need, and the wait list is growing. This new space will help us serve more families, and we are very excited about that.”

He says the center also is launching a fellowship program for doctors who want to work in the field. “They will become developmental-behavioral pediatricians, a subspecialty focusing on children with neurodevelopmental issues,” he says. “There is a nationwide shortage of providers in this area. The program will help us with recruitment, too, as we’ll be able to hire some of the fellows to stay on as faculty.”

It takes a good deal of financial support to keep programs and services evolving at the center, so its fundraising organization, the Thompson Foundation for Autism, will present its virtual AMAZE 2021 gala and auction 7 p.m. Nov. 4. Tim and Mary Ney are exclusive presenting sponsors for the event, which will raise critical funding in a safe, contact-free manner.

Black says the event went virtual for the first time last year, and it was very successful. “Everyone who participated was very invested in our work,” he says. “This year, the event features even more ways to interact and show support for our mission.” The center is encouraging participants to gather with family and friends for watch parties to boost engagement and enjoyment, Black says.

“We can’t rely on clinical reimbursements alone to cover the cost of the high-quality services we provide,” he notes. “We depend on the generosity of community members as well, and they recognize the value of the programs we offer. This event is an ideal way to make a real difference for kids and families dealing with autism.

The Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri-Columbia and its fundraising organization, the Thompson Foundation for Autism, will present their virtual AMAZE 2021 gala and auction Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. Pictured on the cover: Honorary chair and new Thompson Center executive director Stephen Sheinkopf, Ph.D., and his wife, Dr. Jennifer Levy. For information about the event, call 314.550.2888 or visit

Cover design by Julie Streiler
Cover photo courtesy of Thompson Foundation for Autism

Pictured at top: Tammy Hickman, LPN, works with a young client.
Photo courtesy of Thompson Foundation for Autism


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