Autism training to be translated into Spanish

May 13, 2011 by cpehrson

A training curriculum for families of children who have just been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has been developed to help them understand autism and what treatments are available to help their child.

A Spanish translation of the modules is currently being created by project staff of the Utah ASD Development project  at the CPD.

The ABC ‘s of Autism training will be available in English and Spanish this fall through the Utah Family to Family Health Information Center.

For more information about this training, please visit a previous CPD blog post.


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Autism Awareness: Treating autism–The earlier the better

April 18, 2011 by cpehrson

As pediatricians and educators become better trained in identifying the “red flags” for autism/ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorders), children are being diagnosed much earlier, receiving services much sooner, and therefore, having a brighter prognosis.

Yet, when a child is first diagnosed with autism, many families feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do first or where to go for help. They are at the beginning of a journey they weren’t prepared for.

Their pediatricians and family doctors are the best place to start and are good sources of information and can share with parents the resources and services that are available locally.  They will continue to be part of the medical support team the family will have as they begin their journey into the world of autism.


Most parents would welcome a cure for their child, a pill that would “make it all better,” or one therapy that would improve all of the symptoms and challenges that their child has, but autism is not that simple. Each challenge must be addressed with the appropriate intervention. What works for one child may not work for another. Before parents choose an intervention, they will want to learn as much as they can about each therapy option so they can choose the one that will work best for their child.

Treatment for autism is a very intensive, comprehensive undertaking that involves the child’s entire family and a team of professionals. Some treatment programs may take place in the child’s home with professionals and trained therapists and may include parent training for the child under supervision of a professional. Some programs are delivered in a specialized center, classroom or preschool.

Early Intervention.

For very young children, parents can turn to their local Early Intervention program that serves children from birth to age three who have developmental delays or disabilities.

The CPD is the home for the Up to 3 Early Intervention program that serves Cache, Box Elder, and Rich counties in Utah. Because autism can now be detected at a much earlier age, Up to 3 created their ABC classrooms to answer the need for interventions that are focused on young toddlers with autism/ASD.

Lead teacher of the ABC classes, Janel Preston, states “The benefits of children receiving early intervention are amazing. The children in early intervention learn to interact with their families and peers. Their language takes off and parents meet other families who are struggling with the same issues they are.”

Parents are an important ingredient in the treatment of young children with autism.  Parents in Up to 3 are introduced to the Autism Support group where they learn ways to deal with the grief that they are going through when their child first gets a diagnosis. They also learn many techniques and strategies to increase interactions and improve communication with their child.

Because of the intensive early intervention provided at such a young age, Janel reports that “some of our children were not eligible for Part B preschool.”  What this means is that, as they turned 3 years old, the developmental gaps had closed enough because of the early intervention they received, that they were no longer eligible for special education services.  That’s a good thing!

Preschool Services

For those three year old children with autism who still require intensive treatment, special education preschools are available through  local school districts and specialized classrooms .

The CPD houses ASSERT (Autism Support Services:  Education, Research, and Training), a state-of-the-art preschool directed by Dr. Thomas Higbee, a national expert on both assessment and intervention strategies for people with autism.

In the ASSERT preschool, the focus is on teaching the children social skills and encouraging leisure and play activities with structured interactions with their peers. The teachers work with the children on the challenging behaviors that come with autism, and then turn around and teach the parents how to use those same the methods in the home.

“Intensive behavioral intervention for young children with autism is important because the earlier you work with the children, the bigger positive impact you can have on their progression,” states Dr. Higbee,

As the children turn five years old, they transition into the school districts’ Kindergarten classrooms and continue to receive the level of services that they need. Some of the students will go into regular education classrooms;  some will split their time between Special Education and regular education classrooms; and some of the students will spend most of their time in the Special Education classrooms because that is the environment where they will most easily learn and gain the skills they need.

Dr. Higbee explains more autism and the need for intense intervention for young children diagnosed with autism this month on a local radio show called Crosstalk (KVNU 610 April 11, 2011) in honor of Autism Awareness Month.

Note:  This is the 3rd in a series of blog posts during April’s Autism Awareness Month of how the CPD is supporting and providing services and resources for children with autism.

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CPD Legacy Story: Andrew Crookston

April 4, 2011 by cpehrson

This legacy story was written by Ashley Crookston, mother of 5-year old Andrew.  Andrew attends the ASSERT classroom located at the CPD.  ASSERT, the Autism Support Services: Education, Research, and Training program, is a state-of-the-art preschool program that uses research-based techniques to address the individual needs of autistic children.

Written by Ashley Crookston

Andrew was diagnosed with ASD just after his second birthday.  Thankfully, we were referred to the Up-to-3 Early Intervention program who helped us through the most helpless feeling time.  But as Drew’s 3rd birthday approached, my husband, Nate, and I realized that Drew was not where he could be.

We had heard of the ASSERT program, but despaired of getting accepted into it (due to a long waiting list).  At that time, there were only 8 students in the program.  However, we put Drew on the waiting list anyway, and were pleasantly surprised when we got a call from Dr. Higbee shortly after Drew’s 3rd birthday, inviting us to be interviewed and evaluated for the program. We were accepted, and Drew started at ASSERT in August of 2009.

The timing could not have been better.  Drew was, at that time, in a period of impressive verbal growth, and ASSERT was able to take that natural emergence and turn it into true language.  When he entered the program, we would estimate he had between 20-30 regularly used words.  Now, almost two years later he has a full vocabulary.  And, although verbal communication will never be his “first language,” he is “fluent” and is able to communicate almost all of his wants and needs in a calm and easily understandable way.  Not just to us, who know him well, but to strangers, also.

ASSERT has also been wonderful in helping us as parents and as a family through many difficult learning moments.  They have, at home and in the classroom, worked with us and Drew on important things such as: learning to stop when we say “stop”, toilet training, proper behavior in public settings, and eating.  All of these are ongoing, of course.  Every day at school and at home Drew is coached, reminded, and helped in all of these things.

Eating is a particularly good example of the efforts put into Drew’s education.  Drew struggles with most textures and tastes, and has an extremely limited diet.  When we alerted ASSERT of our desire to expand his diet, they came up with an eating program for us and them to follow to help Drew.  It was not easy to do. However, Drew’s case manager was there whenever we needed her to help us and give us suggestions.  The program was mainly implemented in the home, but at school they were doing parallel programs to help the eating program succeed.   When Nate and I felt that we had gotten as far as we could with that eating program, Drew’s current case manager immediately evaluated the situation and came up with a new program for us to use.  Again, he showed us how to implement the program, and has continued to help us with it.  And still they work at school on similar things to encourage what Drew is doing at home.

One of the greatest things about ASSERT is the emphasis they put on the home.  Dr. Higbee, before accepting us to the program, made sure we understood that what Drew learns at school is not any use if it is not taken into the home and becomes part of the routine there.  It is no good to anyone if Drew can do amazing things at school, but comes home and closes down.  Because of this, Drew’s entire life has changed.  Not only is he learning to be a good student, he is learning how to be a good person; to interact correctly with others and to follow social rules that are instinctual or easily learned for neuro-typical children.

The ASSERT program cannot cover every aspect of Drew’s education, though, and they realize that.  Their main focus in on more “academic” matters.  However, where they are not as strong in their teaching, they are able to find ways to supplement.

ASSERT is not the ideal classroom for social skills.  So, they have encouraged, basically required us, to enroll Drew in the local public preschool, where he will get more large group and peer interaction time.  Also, as Drew has learned and become ready for it, they have helped us to enroll Drew in The Children’s House, a preschool on campus for “normal” kids.  Drew attends The Children’s house for 2 hours every week.  He has an ASSERT teacher with him to help him the whole time.  There he gets to interact in situations  that will come up after he leaves the ASSERT program.  The ASSERT teacher can guide and help him to learn to correctly behave in those situations.  Not only is Drew’s time at The Children’s House invaluable for his life skills, but he loves it.

That is one of the best parts of ASSERT, Drew loves it; it is fun.

We have been very blessed that Drew was able to be accepted into ASSERT when he was 3, and we have had two years in this wonderful program.  I cannot say enough about it.  I have been able to watch my son completely change and blossom during that time.  I cannot even guess what he would be like today without it.

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Art and autism intersect on Monday, Feb. 28

February 25, 2011 by JoLynne Lyon

Madeline Gauthier's portrait is one of many photos that will be in the exhibit.

An exhibition of photographic art will feature families of Cache Valley children with autism spectrum disorder.  It is one of the faculty projects featured in the Utah State University Department of Art Faculty Exhibition beginning  Monday, February 28.

The collection of photos is entitled 1 in 110. It takes its name from the statistical probability that a child will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to a 2009 report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Most researchers agree that the causes of ASD must include an environmental component.  The effects of toxicity in the environment on human health have long interested Christopher Gauthier, an assistant professor of art and the photographer who created 1 in 110. In an invitation letter, Jacqueline and Christopher urged Utahns to support intervention programs provided by the CPD’s Up to 3 program. Their daughter, Madeline, is featured in the exhibit.

Also featured is the CPD’s Janel Preston, lead teacher in the ABC classroom. The ABC class is for families who have a child with an ASD diagnosis or are in the process of getting one.

The photos will be on display in the Fine Arts Visual Gallery 102 on the Utah State University campus from the evening of February 28 through March 25, as part of the Current Works of USU and CEU Art Faculty exhibit. The event begins with a reception from 5 to 7 pm on February 28, and it  is open to the public.  To find the gallery, go through the north entrance of the Fine Arts visual wing. Gallery 102 is the first door on the left.

Dax Drysdale also appears in 1 in 110.

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Workshop targets feeding problems for kids with ASD

February 8, 2011 by cpehrson

It is very common for children with autism to be picky eaters and resistant to trying out new foods.  No one really knows why so many children with autism are picky eaters…but there’s no doubt that it’s a common phenomenon.

To help parents and feeding professionals–speech therapists, OT’s, dietitians-who struggle with feeding children with autism–the Up to 3 Early Intervention program at the CPD is hosting its third annual Workshop for Feeding Professionals & Parents on June 16-17 2011 on the USU campus.  It is open to all those interested throughout the Intermountain West.

The presenter is Elizabeth Strickland, a Registered Dietitian specializing in integrative Nutrition Therapy for infants, children and young adults with special health care needs.  She will be speaking on Nutrition Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Strickland is the author of the book Eating for Autism…The 10-Step Nutrition Plan to Help Treat Your Child’s Autism, Asperger’s or ADHD, a useful guidebook for parents and professionals.

This 2-day workshop will cover common nutritional interventions such as supplemental vitamins and minerals,  special diets,  the use of nutrients and herbs, and the rationale, theories, and sciences behind these interventions.

Want to know the difference between a “picky eater” and a “problem feeder?”  Come to this workshop and find out.  You will also learn about things that contribute to feeding problems and strategies to help a child accept new foods.

You can find out more about this workshop and how to register for it by visiting the CPD calendar event page.

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