UCP Heartland opens autism clinic in St. Louis, first to accept Medicaid

A new clinic in St. Louis aims to help children diagnosed with developmental disabilities.
Published: Nov. 17, 2022 at 5:35 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - A new clinic in St. Louis is aiming to help children with developmental disabilities, specifically autism.

UCP Heartland Autism Services is focusing on equity in treatment as the first autism clinic in the city to accept Medicaid.

Saundra Dixon’s 4-year-old grandson George was diagnosed with autism earlier this year.

“We didn’t understand,” Dixon says. “I just didn’t understand a lot of things. He was a kid that used to be verbal and then all of a sudden he stopped being verbal. Now since he’s been here, he’s verbal again.”

The autism clinic in Dogtown opened in October 2022. Since then, Dixon says she’s seen a major difference in George.

“He’s so happy,” Dixon says. “I just love that part of him. He gets to be himself and isn’t stuck in a classroom not being himself. He just gets to be George.”

The clinic provides services for kids from 18 months old to 18 years old.

UCP Heartland’s Vice President of Strategic Growth Judy Grainger says a major focus is on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Everyone who has the need for services, no matter how they’re able to pay, that we provide the opportunity to do that,” Grainger says.

Grainger says there was a critical shortage of autism providers within the community that accepted Medicaid, which leaves kids behind in access to services and treatment.

Because of that, this clinic is hoping to close that gap in services by accepting all insurance, including Medicaid.

“We find that kids with the early interventions are able to stay in school longer, have successful outcomes, join employment programs and then become working, fully included citizens in their community,” Grainger says.

The St. Louis Office for Developmental Disability Resources partnered with UCP Heartland to fund the clinic.

Executive Director Shaelene Plank says there’s been a need for this clinic in the community. The flexible funding model will allow any child in need to get the necessary support, regardless of their socio-economic status.

“Minority populations oftentimes access services for autism at a much later stage in development,” Plank says. “Bringing a resource like this to the city is going to ensure that families are able to access resources at a much younger age.”

Each week, the kids can get up to 40 hours of one-on-one support. The therapy can help children and their caregiver increase communication, improve independence in daily care tasks, decrease behaviors that endanger the individual’s health or safety, and increase opportunities for participation in activities that are important to them.

Dixon says not only has the clinic helped George but it has also helped her entire family understand him better.

“How to cope with his autism and what to do,” Dixon says. “We learned a lot of things since he’s been here. I have learned a lot.”

More information on the clinic can be found here.