By Teresa Rosebrough-Sneed

Interim Director, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism

Walk, Run and Roar is the theme for the 2024 Freeman 5K and Walk for Autism, set for Saturday, April 20, at the Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism. Enjoy a fantastic day and support local children and families affected by autism by registering at or call 417.347.7474.

Not long ago, Four States-Area residents had woefully limited access to autism services. Since its establishment in 2007, the Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism in Joplin has evolved into a renowned facility by providing comprehensive services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

The center is named for the late Bill and Virginia Leffen, who generously donated a $3 million gift to fund the reconstruction of Ozark Center for Autism, which was destroyed by the May 22, 2011, Joplin tornado. In recognition of their generosity, Ozark Center for Autism was renamed in their honor. 

Today, the center serves more than 300 clients per year through outpatient services, a year-round preschool and diagnostic evaluations by a dedicated team of professionals comprising pediatricians, psychologists and behavior analysts. 

The center’s impact is evident through the progress of its young clients, who have shown significant improvements in communication, academics and daily living skills. With a focus on early intervention and individualized care, the center aims to enhance the quality of life for individuals with autism.

Most significantly, the Leffen Center is a source of hope – to clients, their families, caregivers, loved ones and friends. Families have come to us when they thought there was little hope after receiving their diagnosis, and they leave services with hope for a bright future.

The Leffen Center Experience

When it was established, the center collaborated with the Cleveland Clinic Autism Consulting Group to offer Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, aiding children in achieving independence. 

For example, our Day Treatment program provides a 1:1 treatment environment in which a child with autism meets daily with his or her registered behavior technician daily, or RBT. The RBT’s focus is identifying and mitigating the impact of autism on the child’s readiness for being in the classroom with their neurotypical peers. The goal is for the child to be a full participant in the educational experience of their non-autistic peers. 

A day at the center looks much like that of a traditional school. When children arrive each morning — via a typical school car drop-off line – they’re met at the curb by their RBT. As in traditional schools, the kids prepare for the day by stowing their backpacks and other belongings in their cubbies.

From the moment a child’s sneakers hit the sidewalk, the RBT is already working with him or her on treatment goals before taking those goals into the classroom to continue training. As children progress through the Leffen program, their classroom environments will look increasingly like the classrooms we’re targeting them to attend upon graduating from the center. 

Like preschool peers, students take breaks for snacks, lunch and playground time with their RBTs. Further enhancing their experience and treatment, the children participate in circle time and group learning at different points during the day. At the close of their school day, the children are escorted by their RBTs to the curb, where parents and caregivers await them in the pickup line. 

Parents, meanwhile, are provided communication logs on their child’s progress as well as the specific behaviors exhibited or focused on that day.

Navigating the Challenges

Our future goals include the expansion of outpatient services for all ages, reducing waiting lists and offering increased opportunities for parent consultations. Through initiatives like the Freeman 5K and Walk for Autism Awareness, the center raises funds to support program development and scholarships. 

The center’s commitment to evidence-based practices like ABA underscores its dedication to helping individuals with autism lead fulfilling lives. For families in Joplin and beyond, the Bill and Virginia Leffen Center for Autism stands as a beacon of hope and support for families navigating the challenges of autism spectrum disorders.

For more information on autism services, visit or call 417.347.7850.