MURRAY -- With a unanimous vote recently from the Murray State University Board of Regents, a new center was given the go-ahead to begin working with children and adults with issues connected to autism.

Murray State Provost Dr. Mark Arant told the Regents that The Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders will be housed in the Murray State College of Education and Human Services at Alexander Hall. The aim is for the effects of this new facility to spread well beyond the campus boundaries.

"It is our intention to offer this as a service not only to Murray but to our region. I certainly see opportunities for this expanding as well into our service area (the 18 most-western counties of Kentucky)," Arant said in presenting the center as an agenda item of the Academic Excellence and Scholarly Activities Committee.

"We have a very special opportunity here at Murray State University with the presence of Dr. Sean Simons (Murray State psychology program coordinator) to offer a new service to our community as we study and address those with autism and their families. The sooner we can do intervention, the sooner we can help these families."

Simons is a licensed psychologist, as well as a board-certified behavior analyst and nationally-certified school psychologist. The university website says Simons has master's and doctoral degrees in school psychology from Oklahoma State University and has worked in several specialty settings, including outpatient assessment, pediatric clinics for children with prenatal substance exposure and the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Georgia as an intensive behavioral therapist.

The website also says that Simons' areas of specialization include the diagnostic assessment and treatment of problems associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which the National Institute of Mental Health defines as a "developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior." It is described as a developmental disorder because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of a person's life.

The NIMH describes these symptoms as difficulty with communication and interaction with others, restricted interests and repetitive behaviors and symptoms that hurt a person's ability to function properly with school, work or other areas of life.

Simons said affordability is something the new center will try to emphasize. He said one service where this will be of particular importance will be with diagnostic services.

"The wait list for these is incredibly long and very costly. It can cost up to thousands of dollars without insurance and around $500 with insurance," Simons told the Regents. "We're trying to provide these services at a cost of $250, where that wait list could get down to only a couple of weeks long."

Simons also said that a goal is to provide training to parents and schools, as well as host workshops for the region on this topic. Arant also indicated that the center will create opportunities for students training to serve in these areas once they graduate from Murray State.

"This is a primary example of our quality enhancement with experiential learning, where our students work hands-on," he said.

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