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Tawnie Wilson | SBJ

12 People You Need to Know in 2024: Dr. Kyle John

Opening the Door

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If Dr. Kyle John could make it so, children across the state would never wait years for an autism diagnosis – as many do now. His goal is to make it weeks at most. A major step toward that reality is set for Jan. 2, 2024, the planned opening of The Arc of the Ozarks’ Autism and Neurodevelopmental Center.

“Having the official diagnosis is the first domino that opens the door,” John says. “It’s the entry point into all the services that kids need.”

Hired in April 2023 as medical director for the center, which will be the first autism center in the region joining six others statewide, John says his goal is 500 evaluations per year. That would put the Springfield center as the third largest in the state in year one.

“It’s not a competition,” John says, “but if you’re a parent with the child waiting for a diagnosis or to get evaluated, it very much is a competition. If we get really efficient and we have more openings, people will drive here.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data estimate 1 in 36 kids have autism, a broad range of developmental disorders with varying degrees of intellectual, language and social difficulties, and repetitive behaviors.

Getting a diagnosis at a young age and quickly starting therapeutic treatment is key, John says.

“Early diagnosis improves outcomes for kids and increases their likelihood of success in school and being able to live independently or semi-independently as an adult,” he says. “If we don’t get the diagnosis early, the trajectory could be completely different.”

John says the Arc will provide behavioral health care and therapies to thousands of patients.

With partners Mercy and Missouri State University, Arc leadership secured $5 million in matching funds to start the $10 million center, John says. Arc officials say $2.15 million of the $5 million needed to fully realize the match has been raised.

John’s been preparing for this work since he was a child. He recalls helping his dad, a veterinarian, deliver puppies in the middle of the night. He thought vet medicine would be his path, too, until a classmate noted he was good with people. “It was so logical,” he says of the suggestion.

Today, 30 years after graduating from medical school, he still has excitement for the work. John says he calls himself the “talk, play and eat candy doctor,” noting his work often means play time to observe kids’ fine motor skills and speech.

John says his goal is not only timely and personal care, but also cutting-edge treatments, like transcranial magnetic stimulation.

“If we can be successful at (evaluating) 500 kids a year and getting them to the therapies,” John says, “that will change their lives.”

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