You could say Kimberly Bodner got an early start on her career working with children with autism in a professional, evidence-based way. But that might be underselling it quite a bit. Bodner got a VERY early start. In fact, before she had even graduated high school, she was using evidence-based Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) practices as part of a therapy team created by a family in her home town to treat their child with autism.

Growing up in Cincinnati, Bodner was given an opportunity to train in and implement ABA under a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) from a major east coast university. The BCBA periodically flew to Cincinnati to train and monitor the therapy team. Bodner worked with the child and her family for approximately three years, sometimes as many as three-to-four times a week. Bodner remains in contact with the family in Cincinnati, celebrating life milestones together. The child with autism is now a college graduate herself and employed.

“I am so grateful to that family back in Cincinnati,” Bodner said. “They gave me the early opportunity to learn, and trusted me to work with their child. It really helped me develop a passion for working with children and families with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders before I had even began my career path.”

After graduating high school, Bodner earned her bachelor’s degree at Duquesne University before moving to Scotland for graduate school. While earning her master’s degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh, Bodner received her first experience conducting autism research. Knowing for sure that she wanted to work with individuals and families with autism in some capacity, Bodner moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina after earning her master’s degree. Bodner spent a year learning Spanish and also volunteering at an autism center in that country. She quickly realized that children and families with neurodevelopmental disorders had less support and resources in Argentina at the time.

“It really was an amazing experience living, learning, and volunteering in Argentina,” Bodner said. “It truly opened my eyes to the significant need for autism resources and services across the globe.”

After returning to the United States, Bodner made another stop at the Center for Excellence in Autism Research (CeFAR) at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where she gained expertise in the ADOS-2 and ADI-R (two gold-standard assessments to assist with an autism diagnosis) and conducted comprehensive neuropsychological assessments. Within her role at CeFAR, collecting data for autism research projects, Bodner was strongly encouraged and supported by her mentors to continue to learn and grow by seeking a doctoral degree. That’s where the Thompson Center and the University of Missouri appear.

Bodner moved to Columbia and began working toward her PhD in clinical psychology within the Clinical Neuropsychology Lab at Mizzou. During her time as a doctoral student, she performed research using an MRI machine to investigate brain structure and function in individuals with and without autism.  Already proficient in the ADOS-2 and ADI-R, Bodner found her niche as a student trainee and research assistant at the Thompson Center throughout her graduate training, assisting providers with autism diagnostic and neuropsychological clinics.

“Getting to work with and serve patients and families with autism and neurodevelopmental disorders really checked a lot of boxes for me,” Bodner said. “It was amazing to work with families to provide answers to their questions and concerns. I celebrated their progress, strengths, and instilled hope. Families put so much of their lives, time, and tears in making sure their children received the care they needed and deserved, so to be part of their journey was incredibly rewarding.”

After earning her PhD at Mizzou, Bodner was invited to stay on at the Thompson Center as an intern and then resident in pediatric neuropsychology, continuing her work as a clinician and researcher. As expected, she continued to star in these roles, which lead to her being hired as a full-time faculty member in pediatric neuropsychology at the University of Missouri and the Thompson Center.

“We have been so fortunate to be able to add Dr. Bodner as our new neuropsychologist faculty member, given her unique expertise in both neuropsychology and autism,” said Dr. Connie Brooks, head of the clinical psychology department at the Thompson Center. “She is extremely thoughtful and caring with our patients and her clinical work is incredibly helpful to families.”

Bodner now is an assistant clinical professor in the University of Missouri School of Health Professions and serves as a pediatric neuropsychologist at the Thompson Center. She conducts neuropsychological evaluations for patients with complex medical conditions and also autism diagnostic evaluations.

“Basically, I get to play detective,” Bodner said. “Parents and caregivers bring up concerns about their child’s functioning. I collect information and investigate what might be contributing to these challenges. I also identify their child’s strengths. I then develop a plan, using both areas of difficulty and areas of strength, to help improve or support functioning in life, home, and school.”

She also makes an effort to continue her research. Specifically, Bodner is interested in exploring cognitive function and brain structure in individuals with autism, especially in adults with autism. She also has co-authored several recent papers on ethical considerations of trainees with competence problems. While she is relatively new at her role as a faculty member, Bodner’s extensive experience at the Thompson Center as a student and trainee has created a love for the center.

“I love working at the Thompson Center—we do very difficult work at times, but the environment is one of positivity and hope,” Bodner said. “This is an incredibly supportive environment, both for families and for the providers, faculty, and staff.”

A hopeful environment that Bodner continues to propel forward with her positivity and dedication.

This article was originally published by the MU Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.