How did MARRA come about?

The Missouri Autism Research and Response Agenda (MARRA) is an exciting collaboration to develop public policy that addresses the needs of children with autism, their families, and the agencies that provide services. The idea for MARRA began during hearings held by the Missouri Senate Joint Committee on Autism, sponsored by Senators Roseanne Bentley and Sydney Johnson. As a result of these hearings, Dr. Anne S. Deaton, then the Director of the Missouri Division of Developmental Disabilities, Department of Mental Health, organized a symposium held on May 6, 2002, in Jefferson City.

Symposium participants included representatives from a host of state agencies, prestigious state and private universities, the Missouri State Senate, and the Coordinating Board for Higher Education. In addition to these table participants, scores of individuals and families sat in the audience throughout the daylong proceedings.

The symposium participants pointed out that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) constitute a pressing public health problem. The prevalence of these conditions is rising dramatically nationwide and they are associated with enormous costs in terms of disability and required state-supported services. Currently, there is not enough scientific information internationally, nationally, regionally, or within Missouri to address the most critical issues related to ASD. For example, there is a lack of high-quality data on incidence, prevalence, and the effectiveness of specific interventions and treatments.

What can MARRA do?

MARRA establishes a cohesive, integrated research agenda that, if made operational, can positively affect the lives of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families. The intent of MARRA is not to capture a one-time effort but to establish a framework under which collaborative partnerships between stakeholders, research institutions, and service providers can enhance the lives of people with ASD and their families.

What are MARRA's primary goals?

  • To implement a statewide screening effort
  • To establish a voluntary registry that would identify the prevalence of children with autism, their service needs, and their progress over time; and
  • To develop sophisticated interagency collaborations that improve information sharing.

What is MARRA's impact?

To date, the presence of strong state and university partnerships through MARRA influenced the recent endowment of the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The relationships developed within MARRA also have fortified collaboration between public and private universities to further autism research.

This research and response agenda is unique to Missouri and supports our state's role as a national and international leader in research, education, service provision, and public policy regarding ASD.