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Autism-Specific Programs and Initiatives at Utah State University

Autism Support Services: Education, Research, and Training (ASSERT) Program

The Autism Support Services: Education, Research, and Training (ASSERT) program is an autism training and research center housed at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. Dr. Thomas S. Higbee, Ph.D., BCBA-D founded the program in 2003 and serves as its director. The primary goal of ASSERT is to build the capacity of Utah school districts to provide effective, research-based  educational services to children with autism.

ASSERT staff:

  • Operate a model training classroom on the Utah State University campus used to train educational professionals throughout the intermountain region;
  • Conduct research to improve educational and behavioral interventions for children with autism;
  • Provide effective educational and behavioral early intervention to children with autism.
  • Provide support and training to school districts throughout Utah.

 

How is ASSERT different than other autism programs?

Through its outreach efforts, ASSERT provides education and training to students, their families, and educators. In addition, ASSERT serves as a site for research on effective teaching procedures for students with autism. The combination of intervention research and the intensive education and training of children, families, and professionals distinguishes ASSERT from all other autism programs in Utah. ASSERT provides school districts statewide with the opportunity to participate in intensive personnel development specific to research-based autism interventions.

 

What is the program’s track record? To date ASSERT has trained over 120 special education teachers and related service providers in the following school districts: Washington, Weber, Morgan, Ogden, Alpine, Nebo, Carbon, Logan, Cache, Box Elder, Davis, Park City, Sevier, Granite. Hundreds of Utah children with autism are served annually by these educators. Over 70 families have received direct services in the USU model classroom. Since 2003, over 20 graduate students and over 200 undergraduates have learned to implement research-based interventions through the model classroom at ASSERT. Twenty-three studies by ASSERT researchers have been published in scholarly journals and multiple other studies are currently underway. Over 120 presentations at state, regional, national and international research conferences have been based on work completed at ASSERT. ASSERT was honored as “Autism Program of the Year” in 2007 by the Autism Council of Utah and was honored with the “Accomplishment of the Year” Robbins award from Utah State University in 2006.

 

Current research projects conducted by researchers at ASSERT with direct benefit to children with ASD and their families:

 

  • Strategies for promoting appropriate play on the playground
  • Strategies for improving complex social play
  • Strategies for promoting variable responding
  • Strategies for promoting the use of spontaneous language
  • Strategies for training parents and professionals through online, computer-based instruction

 

What are the benefits to Utah children, schools, and families?

Countless children, families, and professionals benefit from ASSERT through the model demonstration classroom, the training initiatives for educators and service personnel, and the intervention research aimed at enhancing the lives of children with autism and their families. By receiving research-based intervention, children with autism will acquire the skills they need to become independently integrated into their neighborhood schools. All students served in ASSERT on-campus and school district programs have made significant educational and behavioral gains, indicating we are succeeding in our efforts.

ASSERT benefits university students who learn to provide these empirically validated instructional methods when they leave USU and join the workforce. Utah has benefited from positive publicity as ASSERT has been featured in several newspaper and magazine articles and in several national and international presentations. For more information contact Dr. Tom Higbee, Director, at: tom.higbee@usu.edu

Utah Behavior Support Clinic

The Utah Behavior Support Clinic (UBSC) provides behavior support to individuals, families, educators, & professionals through evidence-based assessment, intervention, consultation, & training.  Dr. Tyra Sellers, Ph.D., BCBA-D serves as the director of the UBSC. We are currently working with Granite School District, Park City Schools, and the Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning.  The UBSC is a provider through the IDEA Behavior Support Coach service contract with the Utah State Office of Education.  The director, Dr. Sellers is an approved provider through the Utah Professional Development Network (UPDN).  We are committed to working collaboratively to help each individual we serve increase independence and quality of life.

 

Current Research Projects

  • Training professionals to conduct functional analyses via Telehealth
  • Training methodology for residential program staff conducting trial-based FAs
  • Examining effects of varying reinforcement using a high-tech item
  • Examining precursor functional analysis methodology with preschool children
  • Assessing guides for treatment selection

For more information about the UBSC, contact Dr. Tyra Seller, director, at tyra.sellers@usu.edu