Making a difference in the lives of people at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment at the University of Missouri

What is Autism?

Autism refers to a broad range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.

1 in 36 children in the United States may be affected by autism
Nurse with young boy

What is Neurodevelopment?

Neurodevelopment is the development of the nervous system and the functioning of the neurological system and brain. Neurodevelopmental disorders include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, learning disabilities, intellectual disability, conduct disorders, and cerebral palsy.

The Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment works with patients with autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other influences on development from infancy to adulthood. They take a family-centered approach using clinical-based, collaborative research and training programs to address each patient’s individual needs.

The Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment offers comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plans. If you feel like your child may have autism or other developmental concerns, please complete a referral form.

Nurse and young girl
Supporting the Spectrum podcast episodes
Supporting the Spectrum podcast

The Latest From The Foundation

The Thompson Foundation for Autism & Neurodevelopment positively influences and supports autism and neurodevelopment-related education across the nation, helping to lead to greater understanding and empathy for families affected by autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.


  • Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication.

  • Children with neurodevelopmental disorders have health conditions that disrupt the way the brain and nervous system develop. There are many different types of neurodevelopmental disorders. Some we can identify when a child is young, such as autism, Down syndrome, spina bifida, very low birth weight, and often Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Language Disorders, or learning disorders. Others are related to illness or injury and can affect a child later in life, such as a traumatic brain injury, brain tumor, spinal cord injury, childhood cancer, or stroke.

  • The CDC estimates that up to 1 in 36 children has autism, and 1 in 6 children has a developmental disability or delay.

  • Most cases of autism are influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There is no known cause for autism.

  • Autistic individuals show difficulties with social communication and social interaction, and repetitive behaviors or restricted interests. However, children with autism differ greatly in the severity and types of behaviors observed.

    • Difficulty with social and communication skills can be an early sign of autism. This includes making little eye contact, not responding to their name, lack of response to others’ facial expressions, lack of interest in social activities with other children, delayed language development, and more.
    • Repetitive behaviors such as rocking, flapping hands, or repeating phrases can also be signs of autism.
    • Restricted interests and adherence to routines can also point to autism. These can include interest in repetitive activities, or an intense area of interest in specific toys or activities.
  • An evaluation of autism may be made by a physician or psychologist with expertise in diagnosing autism spectrum disorder. The evaluation may include: detailed history, physical, and neurologic exam; observation of the child at play and interaction with the caregiver; standardized autism rating scale or observation schedule; hearing test; language evaluation; cognitive testing; laboratory tests such as chromosomes, Fragile X, or microarray; and neurologic tests such as an EEG or MRI.

  • There is no single, definitive therapy or intervention for autistic individuals. However, there is exciting research that shows early behavioral interventions help to maximize each child’s potential. Early diagnosis, followed by comprehensive and intensive early interventions, can produce better outcomes for many children with autism. These could include behavioral interventions; speech, occupational, and physical therapies; and medical care.

  • The Thompson Center provides clinical services, research, and training related to autism and neurodevelopment. The Thompson Foundation financially supports the work of the Thompson Center, along with raising awareness for autism and neurodevelopmental disorders and advancing public policy.

  • The Thompson Center provides clinical services, research, and training related to autism and neurodevelopment.

  • The Thompson Center offers autism diagnostic services, psychological services, medical care for autism, Applied Behavior Analysis, occupational and speech therapy, and many specialty clinics. These include the Down Syndrome clinic, Cerebral Palsy clinic, rare diseases clinic, post-concussion care, and NICU follow-up care.

  • The Thompson Center serves nearly every Missouri county and approximately 20 other states. International patients have also traveled to receive services at the Thompson Center.

  • Parents/guardians, physicians, school professionals, therapists, and agencies working with the patient can refer patients to the Thompson Center. Please complete a referral form.

  • Interdisciplinary research teams including physicians, psychologists, research scientists, educators, communication experts, occupational therapists, nurses, and other health professionals seek discoveries that will lead to early identification, treatment, and improved outcomes of autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

  • The Thompson Center provides best-practice training for therapists, providers, and students in Applied Behavioral Analysis, medicine, psychology, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, education, and other individuals and organizations who provide treatment to those with autism. They also provide training for autistic people and their family members, as well as Autism-Friendly Business Training.

  • The Thompson Foundation has gained prominence for our efforts in crafting and shepherding successful legislation through the Missouri Legislature that requires insurance providers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism, including behavioral therapy. We have also successfully secured state funding for a new, future home for the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopment.

  • Click here to donate online. Visit here for other ways to give.

  • Our tax ID number is 20-8293152. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

  • The Thompson Foundation for Autism & Neurodevelopment acknowledges all perspectives regarding language used to describe autism, and recognizes the difference between consciously choosing a label as a part of one’s identity, and having someone else make that choice for them. Some individuals with an autism diagnosis prefer to use person-first language of “person with autism.” Other self-advocates prefer to use the identity-first term of “autistic.” The Thompson Foundation will defer to an individual’s preference if known, and use language that the autism community finds clear, respectful, and understandable.


Myles Hinkel

Executive Director

Myles Hinkel began as Executive Director in June 2020. Myles leads the foundation’s three-pillar mission; fundraising, awareness, and advancing public policy. Prior to this, Myles was Director of Advancement for Gift Planning & Regional covering the West Coast for The University of Missouri. This was Myles’ second time with MU Advancement. He previously worked in the College of Arts & Science before taking advancement positions at Columbia College and the Missouri United Methodist Foundation. Myles, his wife Lora, and their two boys have been involved in the Thompson Center and the Thompson Foundation since their inceptions.

Katie Lynn

Director of Donor Relations

Katie Lynn oversees donor stewardship and marketing for the Thompson Foundation for Autism & Neurodevelopment. Prior to joining the Thompson Foundation in 2020, she worked for Major League Baseball’s nonprofit, the Baseball Assistance Team. Originally from Quincy, Illinois, Katie is a graduate of Tulane University and has also lived in Louisiana, Florida, New York, and now Missouri. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, singing, and playing violin.

Melissa Eston

Office Manager

Melissa Eston began her role as Office Manager in August of 2022. In her role, Melissa receives and processes donations, assists in event planning, and manages accounts receivable and payable. Melissa most recently worked in Healthcare Advancement at the University of Missouri. Prior to that, she worked as a Senior Strategic Communications associate in University Relations at the University of Missouri System. Her first experience working with non-profits was at Columbia College, where she served as a Coordinator for the Advancement division. Melissa is a Columbia College graduate with a BA in History. She lives with her husband, Chris, in Columbia. Melissa’s favorite part of working at the Thompson Foundation is seeing the tangible, positive impact its advocacy work has on the Thompson Center and the families it serves.


Sam Hayes

Director of Development

Sam Hayes joined the Thompson Foundation in December of 2023. During his previous six years with the University of Missouri, Sam raised over $6 million in philanthropic support for many areas across campus, including healthcare, the School of Journalism, Marching Mizzou, campus-wide scholarships, and the College of Arts & Science. Sam has a Bachelor’s in Parks and Recreation from Mizzou. Sam is honored to serve the Thompson Foundation, which has helped many people. He lives in Columbia, where he likes to hike with his wife, Samantha, their two sons, John and Teddy, and their chihuahua Louie.