State negotiating to fund new autism program

JACKSON — A month after the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced it was closing its regional school for autistic children, the state Department of Education says it’s negotiating with another university to start a similar program.

The name of the university isn’t being released because of the ongoing talks, said Danita Munday, bureau director for autism and policy at DOE, which had funded the UMC-run school. She said it could be a couple of months before an agreement is reached.

On June 30, UMC closed the school, which had served about 35 children — ages 3 to 11 — who have been diagnosed with autism and other developmental delays. The school’s focus was to provide research-based training for teachers and other district personnel working with children with autism, Munday said.

The department was contacted by another university almost immediately after the school was closed to see about reopening it, she said.

UMC told parents it was closing the program to change it from a school model into a clinic model no longer affiliated with the Department of Education. In a letter to parents dated June 5, Dr. Susan Buttross wrote that the change would benefit children by providing “more flexibility in enrollment and treatment.”

There is no timeline for opening the clinic, said UMC spokeswoman Tena McKenzie.

The Associated Press