Families and friends of the ASSERT autism program recently flooded the playground of the Edith Bowen Laboratory School to celebrate the program’s 20th anniversary.
On Saturday, June 24, more than 300 students and families, staff members and volunteers came to the picnic celebration, which included games, a bouncy house, face painting, balloon animals, and a bubble-making machine. Tours of ASSERT’s new space were also available for those who wanted to see the new location and program facilities in the Sorenson Center for Clinical Excellence, which opened in 2018.
Lyndsay Nix, program director of ASSERT, has been overwhelmed by the response from individuals and families who have interacted with ASSERT over the past two decades.
“It has been amazing to see so many ASSERT families and staff over the years all at once,” she said. « I’ve been able to have conversations with students I’ve worked with over 15 years ago, and it’s been great to talk to different parents and hear how grateful they are for the opportunity they’ve had to participate in the ASSERT program. »
Nix was heavily involved in coordinating the 20-year celebration, as was Kassidy Reinert, clinical director of ASSERT. Both have been with ASSERT for the past 16 years and have seen firsthand the growth and impact of the program on families in the community.
ASSERT, or Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training, was founded in 2003 by Tom Higbee, who now serves as executive director of the program in addition to his role as head of the special education and rehabilitation counseling department .
The threefold mission of ASSERT is to provide research-based support to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), to promote research on behavior intervention techniques and training methods for parents and professionals, and to provide short- and long-term training to teachers and others professionals who work with individuals with ASD.
Over the past 20 years, the program has directly helped more than 150 families in the greater Cache Valley area through its on-campus preschool classroom, and has reached countless others through its research and education efforts.
In addition to Utah State undergraduate and graduate students gaining experience working and volunteering with ASSERT, the program has partnered with eight school districts in Utah over the past 20 years to help current kindergarten and elementary level educators learn effective strategies for help their students with ASD maximize their potential.
Through its international outreach program, ASSERT staff has helped teach professionals around the world to use evidence-based strategies for children on the autism spectrum.
According to Higbee, when he began his career at Utah State in 2002, specialized programs for children with ASD were few and far between. special education professionals.
“ASSERT was something I wanted to build here in Cache Valley to serve the needs of the local community and provide an opportunity for my graduate and undergraduate students,” she said. « We have the opportunity to directly impact a few families and a much larger impact through our education and research efforts. »
Kim Jacobson, a mother of two on the autism spectrum, has found that despite their very different needs, both of her children have developed greater independence and communication skills through ASSERT’s individualized approach.
She also found more support as a parent than she ever expected through the program’s monthly training sessions and personalized assistance, and described how touched she was that the graduate student she worked with visited her home to see what other solutions could they explore.
“I felt like I understood my kids on a much deeper level because of what I learned with the ASSERT trainings,” Jacobson said, “but then they took it a step further. They really went out of their way to help our family ».
Higbee said a large part of ASSERT’s strategy is to teach parents skills to help their children overcome challenges and succeed, while still allowing them to primarily remain in their parenting role.
“Our approach was not to turn parents into therapists; that’s not their job,” she said. « We wanted [families] knowing there was hope. We wanted to instill hope in them that things could improve, that with support they could learn to help their child learn to communicate more effectively.
Jacobson is well aware of the pressure to become a practitioner and therapist as well as a parent while raising a child with ASD. After experiencing the enormous weight of responsibility for her eldest son’s success after he was diagnosed, Jacobson wants other parents in similar situations to know that they don’t have to do it alone.
“Even if your child doesn’t come to the ASSERT program, parenting trainings are open to the whole community,” she said. « There are incredible resources out there, and there are people who really want to help your kids. »
Learn more about ASSERT autism program.