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Autism Training Model Reaches Across State

Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013

USU faculty member Thomas S. Higbee, director of the ASSERT program

Thomas S. Higbee directs the ASSERT program that is based at Utah State University's Center for Persons with Disabilities.

A unique method of teaching preschool children on the autism spectrum to communicate their needs is spreading to 14 Utah school districts this fall, including Logan, Park City and Granite school districts.

Based at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, the ASSERT (Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training) model utilizes applied behavior analysis — ABA — to change the challenging negative behaviors associated with autism.

“We teach them how to request things they want and need, to control their environment and get their needs met, so they don’t have to rely on tantrums and aggression,” said Thomas S. Higbee, ASSERT program director.

ABA works so well because it’s based on science, Higbee said. Data gathered during ASSERT research projects have been presented at 60 state, regional and national conferences, and 18 research papers have been published. Fifty families have been served by the program.

“All the techniques have been carefully researched and refined over many years,” Higbee said. “It’s completely individualized based on each child’s specific needs.”

With a 1:1 student-to-staff ratio in the ASSERT preschool, children spend the majority of their time in their cubicles working with their instructors, said ASSERT program coordinator Lyndsay Nix.

“There is no down time,” Nix said. “Everything they do is to facilitate social skills and interactions. They are always working on something.”

Even during snack time, she said, the focus is not on eating, but on practicing social language and how to request what they want.

In August 2013, ASSERT celebrates 10 years of service to families with autism.

Related links:

Contact: Dr. Thomas S. Higbee, 435-797-1933,

Writer: Sue Reeves, 435-797-1977,

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