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Ground Broken for Joplin Autism Center

JOPLIN, Mo. -- Construction is underway on a new autism center in Joplin. The former center was destroyed during the May, 2011 tornado.
JOPLIN, Mo. -- Construction is underway on a new autism center in Joplin.  The former center was destroyed during the May, 2011 tornado.

"If we can make early intervention with these children, we can change their life path for the rest of their lives," said Paula Baker, president of Freeman Health System.

That's the goal for the new 20,000 square foot Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. The center will have a number of mock rooms. 

"Intended to simulate real life. So if some of our children have difficulty going to the grocery store, we can simulate that environment. We can simulate the barber shop. We can simulate the grocery store. A classroom, so when they're ready to mainstream into a typical classroom, they feel comfortable in that environment," said Baker.

The center is currently operating out of a temporary facility and staff say miracles are taking place.

"We have had 5 and 6-year-old's say their first word while in our program. And give mom or dad the first ever hug. So we see miracles all the time in our autism center, and this new facility is going to help us bring many more of those miracles to the families," she said.

Matt Harding has a 9-year-old son with autism. He says the center is helping his son.

"He has never drank through a straw before, and so once he started going to Bill and Virginia Autism Center, he's now drinking out of a straw. You know his communication is improving. At times, you know, he'll come get us and tell us what he wants. He's working on a system of pointing out pictures," says Harding.

The former Ozark Center for Autism was destroyed during the May 22, 2011 tornado. This new facility will cost $4.2 million and is expected to be complete in 12 months.

The majority of the money came from donations. The Leffen family donated $3 million to the project.


(KODE, Joplin)
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