Dr. Tim Conway is president of The Morris Center clinics and a UF professor with an extensive background in research into, and evidence-based treatment of, neurodevelopmental disorders. Families struggling with these disorders travel here from all over the country — and even the world — to access his clinics. He’s also the founder of an online instruction service called “NOW!” which reaches an even wider clientele.
Tell me about The Morris Center.
The Morris Center is three companies in one building.
It’s a neurodevelopmental disorders assessment treatment clinic, which means language problems, learning disabilities, Down syndrome, intellectual challenges, autism. The team is specially designed to do assessments of that and also to do customized, individualized research in what we call evidence-based treatments.
Also, there is the Morris Center Academy, a private school. Follows all the state standards of curriculum, but it pushes in two of our proprietary programs. One changes reading and spelling skills. That’s the one we’ve done about a million-plus dollars of NIH-funded research to make sure that program is highly effective. It’s the only literacy program for dyslexia and reading problems. It’s been tested well in the United States.
The other programs are research-based programs. That means you don’t have those big studies on it yet, but it comes with a lot of theoretical background, which is how to change listening comprehension, reading comprehension and verbal expression.
Those are actually integrated into the school’s classrooms. The teacher’s able to reinforce it, do small group instruction, and it’s all built in as part of the actual school classroom day.
Now, some kids who have learning disabilities also need other services. So, they might have fine motor skill trouble, gross motor skill trouble, trouble learning to ride their bike, trouble learning to tie their shoes, trouble with their pencil grip — so, occupational therapy. There’s a specialist in that service. If they’re here in the classroom, the family has the option to have them actually get OT during the school day without going someplace else.
And then the third thing is an afterschool tutoring program.
The latest NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] data is that 25% of Florida’s third-graders are proficient readers, which means accurate reading skills, fluent reading skills and comprehension all at grade level.
That’s why we built the afterschool tutoring program. We have the evidence-based programs that have been tested and proven to be highly effective. … You’re going to get five sessions a week. And in about 10 months, those kids will be completely done with the program and will need no more additional reading instruction.
In what way is your company’s approach unique?
Two things. One, it’s evidence-based. Two, it’s got a transdisciplinary team. …
We have educators and they’re all cross-trained. The “trans” means “across.” So, it’s a transdisciplinary team because speech cross-trains with OT [occupational therapy]. And OT cross-trains with speech. And speech and OT cross-train with neuropsychology. And that’s how we then have a team where everyone’s coordinated in what they’re doing.
What is your background?
My background is a Ph.D in neuropsychology, but I’m trained in three areas. I’m trained in neurodevelopmental disorders. Those are the ones that are genetic. I’m trained in neurorehabilitation. Those are the brain-injury-related issues. But I’m also trained in neuroimaging.
… I started working with a medical clinic in 1986 called San Luis Obispo Medical Clinic. Later on, that medical clinic was renamed and rebranded as a different company called Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. The woman and the husband who founded that company built this medical clinic in the early ‘80s and then changed the name.
This was my aunt and uncle. So, lucky for me, I had an aunt and uncle who were world famous in their work on dyslexia. But it’s not only lucky. It’s life-saving for me. Because I’m dyslexic.
But you would never know it. Because I can speak very fluently, I can write, I can publish, I can read easily, but I was in their intervention program at age 5.
… Essentially, my work is an extension of what the Lindamoods had started back in the ‘60s. We just built a much more advanced program.
Some of your clients come from far away. For families living right here and dealing with these issues, this clinic must be a great benefit.
For the Ponte Vedra, Beaches, Jacksonville area, to have a clinic like this with this many resources, whether it’s the private school, or afterschool tutoring or the medical team, is really just unparalleled.
My clinic in Ocala has had families from India, families from Singapore, families from Latin America, from the Caribbean, from the U.K. Pretty much all over the world. So, for Ponte Vedra to have this in their backyard, that’s just one in a million.
There are only five clinics like this in the nation, and I own or run four of the five.
What do you like best about what you do?
The best part of my day is we get to see children empowered. And an empowered child empowers a family.
When you see a kid who doesn’t struggle anymore, you relieve the stress for Mom and Dad. They have better hopes for this kid. You decrease frustration in the family because Junior’s not struggling so much at school. Or, you know, Sally doesn’t have so much angst and frustration and tears and temper tantrums about doing homework.
It just improves the quality of life for the whole family. …
You have worked to make services more affordable for families.
The typical family pays about $10,000 a year for tutoring every year the child’s in school. Some of the tutors in this area charge $100 to $145 an hour for instruction. I can give it to you for $40.
Some of the tutors who are charging $100 to $145 for instruction are using programs that aren’t tested and proven effective, so you’re going to see that tutor pretty much for three to five years.
We’re going to be done in less than about 10 months.
We’ve designed it purposefully to make sure we cover all price points, and that way we can help the widest range of children.
What do you like best about living in this community?
I love being close to the river and the beach. I love the weather here. I love the people here.