Erinn Barcomb-Peterson
KU News Service

University community mourns death of professor, researcher James Thompson

Tue, 09/20/2022

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas community is mourning the death of professor and senior scientist James Thompson, who died Sept. 11.

Thompson had more than 30 years of experience in the field of developmental disabilities as a direct support professional, special educator, rehabilitation counselor, teacher educator and researcher.

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jim Thompson, a devoted faculty member in our Department of Special Education who dedicated his career to working to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities,” said Chancellor Douglas A. Girod. “I offer, on behalf of the entire university, my condolences to his family, his friends and to all who knew him at KU.”

Thompson joined KU in 2016. He held positions at the School of Education & Human Sciences, where he was a professor of special education, and at the Life Span Institute. There, he was both a senior scientist at the Beach Center on Disability and associate director of the KU Center on Developmental Disabilities (KUCDD). 

Among Thompson’s contributions at the center was leading groundbreaking research on understanding the support needs of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“His contributions to KUCDD and the intellectual and developmental disability field will have a lasting impact, and we will honor that memory through our ongoing work and reflections on his contributions,” said Karrie Shogren, the center’s director. “Jim was a valued member of the KUCDD team, and we will miss him.”

Thompson was recognized as an international expert in support needs assessment and planning with children and adults with intellectual disability and related developmental disabilities. He wrote or co-wrote more than 70 books, book chapters, monographs and articles in professional journals, and he directed multiple federal and state funded research and model demonstration projects.

Shogren said one of Thompson's most significant contributions was the definition and advancement of the supports paradigm — work that led to the development, publication and widespread adoption and use of the Supports Intensity Scale. To recognize this achievement, in August the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities awarded him its Distinguished Career Recognition.

"For Jim, however, it was never about personal recognition," Shogren said. "It was always about recognizing and celebrating all the people that advanced change – including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities."

As a teacher, Thompson specialized in special education and low-incidence disabilities. Thompson’s thoughts on teaching were articulated on his KU profile webpages. “Teaching and learning should be a source of joy for both my students and myself at the University of Kansas,” he wrote. “This does not mean that I want my courses to be fun, although it is OK for a course to be fun for everyone.”

Thompson wanted students to get their "learning joy" from the energy and personal satisfaction that comes from meaningful intellectual engagement and personal growth.

“The joy of learning and joy of teaching have a reciprocal relationship, and I get my ‘teaching joy’ when I see students acquiring new knowledge, competencies and perspectives,” he wrote.

A celebration of life is planned for Oct. 1 in Normal, Illinois.

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