MURRAY -- Since it was approved by the Murray State University Board of Regents in June, anticipation has been at a high level in advance of the official opening for a center on campus that will have combating autism at its core.

Thursday, the wait ended. The Murray State University Center for Autism Spectrum Disorder is officially open for business.

"It is special, very special," said Murray State Interim Provost Tim Todd, who attended Thursday's ceremony inside Alexander Hall with many other campus and community leaders. Also in attendance were several of the students of the university's College of Education and Human Services, who will be on the front lines of trying to assist patients while gaining valuable experience in the process.

"It acknowledges what this College of Education and Human Services is meant to do: continued outreach to the citizens of this region," Todd said.

"It is a need in this region that we are addressing and that's what a comprehensive university should be doing."

The center will be led by professors Sean Simons and Marty Dunham. College of Education and Human Services Dean David Whaley said the center will start inside the college's assessment clinic that has been assessing learning disabilities in children.

"It's huge for this college," Whaley said. "This was a mission that was started three or four years ago for us. We decided, at that time, that we were going to invest some of our energies to making this happen, so over a period of time, we were able to hire the very best professors and we were able to set aside our assessment clinic so that we could specialize in autism spectrum disorders."

"If you've been touched by the life of a person with autism; you know it takes a village," Simons said during Thursday's ceremony that he capped with the ceremonial cutting of a cake that featured red, blue, yellow and green puzzle pieces inside the shape of the Murray State shield. Puzzle pieces have long been recognized as the universal symbol of autism.

Simons said the three main things the center will offer will be timely, affordable diagnostic evaluations; support to the community through workshops, trainings and advocacy events; and treatment options for local families.

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