Gertrude C. Ford Foundation gift assists MSU autism clinic

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Mississippi State University received support from the Ridgeland-based Gertrude C. Ford Foundation for autism and developmental disabilities research and treatment services. Specifically, a gift of $125,000 makes possible renovated facilities and expanded services for more clients of the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic in MSU’s College of Education.

“Mississippi State University is committed to taking a leadership role in addressing autism and developmental disabilities by changing the lives of children and families, and a partnership with the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation will advance our efforts,” said MSU President Mark E. Keenum. “We are grateful for the foundation’s confidence in our level of expertise in this area and their willingness to help us train the next generation of mental health practitioners who can combat this critical need in our state.”  

A portion of the gift is helping the clinic expand from its existing space to a newly renovated location on Blackjack Road, making possible services for more clients with additional treatment space. The ADDC is the flagship clinic of the School Psychology Services Center operated by the school psychology faculty through the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Foundations. The clinic’s mission is to provide high quality services to the community at little or no cost, train future professionals, and engage in research to enhance the field.

Daniel L. Gadke, associate professor of school psychology and interim head of the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Foundations, founded the ADDC after joining the MSU faculty in 2013. He also serves as center director. The ADDC is primarily funded year to year through grants, and it is one of the only comprehensive pediatric psychological service centers in north Mississippi.

The ADDC began with only five clients, but now serves 100 to 150 people weekly, the majority of which are community children. Clients range in age from birth through adult, and includes about 40 MSU degree-seeking students who have autism. The ADDC works with MSU Disability Support Services to offer the Autism Liaisons program.

“Although there are other clinics at college campuses around the country, we operate on a fairly large scale as a training and research facility. We individualize our approach and assist case by case with research-based integrity,” said Gadke. “Intervention for community children and work with vocational students is critical, and our goal is to help each person be as autonomous as possible. And support from the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation will help further our work through expanded services for all.”

The ADDC offers a variety of services for those in pre-k to emerging adults including, individual services including behavior concerns, academic skills and vocational skills training, social skills groups and assessment services.

This fall the clinic began with 70 clients. Once those were scheduled for the semester, the ADDC started taking those on their waitlist. The clinic, which does not charge for most of its services, with the exception of assessment services, is grant-funded.

In the surrounding community, the ADDC serves 100-150 clients, not including their autism liaison services, a program in partnership with Disability Support Services tailored towards degree-seeking MSU students who identify as having autism. Through that partnership, they have a group of graduate students known as autism liaisons dedicated to serving the students at Mississippi State. They meet on an as-needed basis or up to weekly to help them navigate college. 

A true hub of cross-campus collaboration and service for people with developmental disabilities, the clinic is not only run by graduate students under the supervision of professors in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Foundations, but undergraduates from any major can volunteer their time in the clinic.

“We get a host of undergrad volunteers from engineering, kinesiology, psychology, business from all over really,” Gadke said. “We’ll have students from other colleges say ‘I have a cousin with autism, and I’ve always wanted to know what it was like to help and work with somebody. Can I volunteer at the clinic?’ Undergrads come in, they work in the clinic every single week with a grad student.”

Professors involved with the clinic also give professional and community trainings throughout the state on autism, behavior, academics and disabilities.

Along with school psychology faculty, eight graduate assistants pursuing doctoral degrees in school psychology help operate the clinic, and their work is part of their direct training and education. 

“In the future, we hope to have more boots on the ground in the form of graduate assistants supporting our work,” Gadke said. “Graduate students are pursuing their Ph.D.’s or educational specialist degrees, and their work is crucial to the operation of the ADDC.”

With multi-year support, the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation will help the clinic continue to meet the needs of the area.

“The mission of the ADDC aligns with our foundation, and we are pleased to further the important work of the clinic and help extend the reach of services for increasing numbers of deserving clients,” said John Lewis, vice president and treasurer of the board of directors for the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation.

The Gertrude C. Ford Foundation furthers the legacy of the organization’s late namesake. Since 1998 the non-profit organization has supported religious, charitable, scientific, literary and educational activities, and the humane treatment of animals. Earlier support from the foundation helped make possible the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation Library for MSU’s School of Architecture. The library is located        in the Jackson Design Center in the state’s capital city, where MSU architecture students complete their final year of study.

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