MU announces $1 million endowed professorship to support autism research, services

April 8, 2021
Contact: Brian Consiglio, 573-882-9144,

A $1 million gift from University of Missouri alumni Bill and Nancy Thompson will establish the Ron Ashworth Endowed Professorship in Child Development. The gift honors the service of Ron Ashworth, board chair for the Thompson Foundation Board of Directors and a longtime advocate of both neurodevelopmental disability issues and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.

“We are grateful for the continued support the Thompsons have expressed throughout the years, and their generosity will allow us to provide improved clinical care and achieve critical breakthroughs in research related to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders,” UM President Mun Choi said. “This endowed professorship is a very fitting tribute to Ron Ashworth, as his dedication to helping patients and their families demonstrates his tireless advocacy for advancing autism services in Missouri.”

Ben Black, director of medical services at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders, will hold the Ron Ashworth Professorship. Black, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, is also a faculty member in the MU School of Medicine.

“This is a great honor, and I know this is going to help give the Thompson Center more flexibility to grow the programs and services that positively impact our patients,” Black said. “Ron Ashworth has been instrumental in helping to develop our strategic plan for the future. He is a true partner in our mission.”

Due to high demand for autism services in Mid-Missouri, the waitlist for new patients at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders can last nearly a year in some cases.

“This gift will allow the Thompson Center to attract and retain the highest level of experts to see more patients faster and reduce the time families have to wait to receive this vital care,” said Rick Barohn, MU’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs.

Bill and Nancy Thompson, who both attended MU in the 1960s, founded the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at MU in 2005 when their daughter, Emily, was working as a behavioral therapist with children on the autism spectrum.

“The Thompsons’ long-standing commitment to improving the lives of people with neurodevelopmental disorders is awe-inspiring,” said Jackie Lewis, vice chancellor for advancement at MU. “This gift further strengthens that commitment and will help the Thompson Center continue to be at the forefront of research and treatment.”

The Thompsons’ latest gift comes in April during World Autism Month, which focuses on increasing both the understanding and acceptance of people with autism.

“Ben Black could not be a better fit for the Thompson Center,” Bill Thompson said. “He brings expertise with his clinical capabilities, and is knowledgeable in the fields of pharmaceuticals and research.”

Ron Ashworth, who earned both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from MU, also serves on the MU Health Care Advisory Board and collaborated with the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities to establish Missouri’s standard for autism screening, diagnosis and assessment.

“Ron has helped patients and families navigate between the Thompson Center and the university’s health care systems because he has a great understanding of how they work and support each other,” Nancy Thompson said. “He has been invaluable to us and has worked nonstop for years, so we are thrilled to honor him with this professorship.”

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