Director hopes to grow ACACIA Center services to area families

By Amantha Davis, Senior, English major


Having planted the seeds to provide applied behavior analysis (ABA) to the community, the ACACIA Center at Missouri Southern will eventually branch out even further.

“We want this program to be as accessible to as many people as possible,” said Dr. Ayla Schmick, assistant professor of psychology and director of the center.

Located in the Gene Taylor Education building, it opened in 2021 following renovations made to the space formerly occupied by the university’s Child Development Center. It’s named for its key values: Acceptance, Community, Academics, Commitment, Inclusivity and Advocacy.

The mission is to provide services and resources to families of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and beyond, including parent/caregiver consultation, addressing social and emotional growth, and assistance with vocational and daily living skills.

“We look at human behavior as a whole and how we can understand and use our science to help people who are on and off the spectrum, with no age range or required diagnosis limitations,” said Schmick. “We’re here to help everyone and anyone.”

The ACACIA Center works primarily with local families and individuals in the Joplin area, with plans to reach out to more people.

The center also provides an invaluable education experience for MSSU students interested in ABA. Students can apply what they have learned in the classroom, observe, and address different behaviors, and learn how to respond to a variety of different scenarios.

Chantelle Single, a senior elementary education major, is a student worker in the center. As part of her job, she is able to get hands-on experience working with clients.

“I do a lot of Discrete Trial Teaching (DTT), helping learners with reading and identifying different emotions and how to deal with them,” she said. “I didn’t think I would be interested in going into this field. But after getting my ABA and autism certificates from MSSU and working here, I plan on getting my master’s in ABA because my experience here has been so good.”

Schmick said she has plans to expand the center’s offerings beyond what is available now.

“We are in the process of becoming an approved insurance provider, as well as developing other resources for our community so we can help more people on a larger scope,” Schmick said. “Eventually I would like to have scholarships available for families, but we’re taking this one step at a time.”