MURRAY — For Dr. Sean Simons, the most exciting aspect about the establishment of the Murray State University Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders is the prospect that it will enable people with this condition to receive badly-needed treatment.
The center will formally open Thursday with a ribbon cutting and reception at Alexander Hall along North 16th Street. That is scheduled for 1-2 p.m.
“We really want to address these things as soon as possible and that’s what is involved with getting a diagnosis,” Simons said last week during a presentation in front of the Rotary Club of Murray. “Many people have to drive as far as (Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee) or Louisville or even farther, and it’s very expensive. You’re talking about insurance only covering so much of the cost.
“Plus, the typical autism examination wait is 18 months to two years when research clearly shows that early intervention is the key to get (patients) on the right track, so I’m really excited about getting them some treatment and being able to get in there and make a difference.”
This was made possible in June when the Murray State Board of Regents approved the establishment of the center. It will begin operating during the fall 2019 semester.
For Simons, this is a personal mission that he said started during his college days at Harding University in Arkansas. That was when he met a child named Slade.
“He was blind, deaf and he had autism and the teachers were tasked with trying to teach him things we take for granted, like writing your name, asking for help using the restroom, and I was baffled,” he said, “I didn’t know what to do for that child, but that really pushed me to go figure out what to do for that child and every child that is on the spectrum of just children that need help.”
Simons said the world for a person with autism often resembles nothing close to what people without the disorder experience.
“These individuals that have autism don’t have the same rules,” he said. “They don’t understand the rules like we do and they see the world very differently and that impacts all facets of their lives. Things that are structured things that are novel, implicit and intuitive common sense, all of those things can be very difficult.”
Simons admitted that while the Murray State center will be a valuable resource for the area, it cannot possibly provide all of the answers to this still very elusive disorder. He said that while research shows that boys are four to five times more likely to develop it, reasons for why remain largely a mystery.
“There’s a genetic cause there most of the time, but we know little other than that,” he said. “This occurs regardless of racial groups, socio-economic status, biological sex. It affects everybody.
“I was looking at my options (at Harding) and I was fortunate to do my last capstone experience in Searcy, Arkansas at a private, non-profit special needs school, and my eyes were suddenly opened to the diverse needs that our children face and that our teachers and educators face. Clearly, there is a need in this community with a lot of energy in place for what we’re trying to do and I hope to use our students as much as possible.”