CPD's developmental playground soon to become a reality

photo of a grinning toddler

The dream of a developmental playground for very young children is on the verge of coming true. The last needed ingredient is your continued support. Now, as we approach the day when the groundbreaking begins, we also look back at the steps that brought us to where we are today.

The new playground's planners drew from the experience of occupational therapist Amy Henningsen and Sue Olsen, the exemplary services director who is over the Up to 3 program. They worked with Justin Wilson, a graduate student in Utah State University’s Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning department to come up with designs and playground features that would stimulate the minds, bodies and development of young children.

It became a research assistantship for Wilson. “Originally we (Wilson and his research mentor, Keith Christensen) had a bunch of ideas that I thought would look cool,” Wilson said.  

Justin Wilson worked with experts to ensure the playground would be more than just a pretty space.

Then the research began and new ideas started to emerge. He began looking at the space as a way to encourage social interaction, cognitive development and mobility skills. The focus shifted from the features to the results they would create. “It’s still cool,” he said. “It’s cool on a deeper level than esthetics.”

The playground will be more than pretty. Wilson looked for equipment that was accessible, and he added a couple of original designs that would stimulate development in a fun, safe way. “The best part of it is, it’s just been a wonderful learning experience.”

To learn more about the playground, read the whole story on the CPD website.

CPD by the numbers

During the past academic year, the The Autism Support Services: Education, Research, and Training (ASSERT) program at the CPD trained 43 undergraduates and four graduate students in research-based techniques to address the individual needs of children with autism.

CPD Meets the Challenges of Autism

The ABC services teach strategies that help parents interact with their children effectively through play.

By Connie Pehrson

Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the U.S.

One in every 150 American kids has some form of autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder-ASD), according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  One to 1.5 million Americans lives with an ASD. 

Autism does not just affect the individuals who have it, but greatly impacts their families, also. Many parents are told their children will never talk or live an independent life.

How are these complex challenges being addressed?

A growing number of strategies have been tried  and found effective. Many adults with ASD  have developed into successful, productive people. When the diagnosis is made early and treatment is started immediately, positive, long-term outcomes are possible.

The Center for Persons with Disabilities is addressing  the challenges of autism on several  levels.

The Biomedical Immunology/Genetic Laboratory at the CPD has been doing research on the genetic causes of autism for several years.  According to Dr. Anthony Torres, director of the BioMedical Lab, “The genetic studies [of ASD] are not anywhere near as simple as people thought they would be.”  The causes may be related to genes, the environment, or a relationship between the two. Continuing research is needed to identify the exact causes of ASD.

The Medical Clinic at the CPD sees and evaluates children with a variety of developmental disorders, including ASDs and other additional disorders that may be present.  Patients who need further assessment are also seen by the clinical services team.  Treatment generally involves accessing community and university resources for speech, behavior, occupational therapy and school.  Additionally, they review and provide medication options if indicated. 

Another CPD project, the Utah Autism Spectrum Disorders Systems Development Project (UASD), is jointly directed by the Utah Department of Health and led by Dr. Judith Holt . It is focusing its work on increasing the public awareness of autism as well as increasing the early diagnosis of ASD by pediatricians.  In addition, in collaboration with the Utah Autism Society, the UASD is developing a training curriculum to be used throughout the state to educate parents of children newly diagnosed with ASD.  The curriculum includes a trainer's guide with accompanying DVDs featuring presentations by doctors, therapists, parents, special educators and others on ASD information, treatment, and resources.

The Up to 3 Early Intervention program at the CPD provides specialized services  for toddlers up to age three who either exhibit behaviors associated with ASD or have been diagnosed. The services are provided through the ABC program and take place at the Center and at the child’s home.  Lead teacher of the ABC classes, Janel Preston, teaches four classes in Logan and two other classes in Box Elder County.  Over 40 children and their parents participate in home and center-based classes and learn strategies to help them interact with their child effectively through engaged interaction and play.

The ABC services follow the Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters (P.L.A.Y.) program created by Richard Solomon, M.D.  The goal of the P.L.A.Y. approach is to help parents become their child’s best play partner by following the child’s lead and expanding on what the child’s interests are at the moment.  ABC services teach parents intensive, one-on-one, play-based methods to use with their young children throughout the day.  The structured visits focus on modeling and coaching parents to engage their child in ways that promote emotional connection and communication. 

Combining the bi-weekly classes with a monthly home visit reinforces these strategies in the home.  A monthly community-based activity allows the children and their families to participate in fun activities. Up to 3 provides intensive intervention for both the children and their families.

The CPD is also the home of Autism Support Services:  Education, Research, and Training (ASSERT).  This state-of-art preschool program works with children with autism, ages 3-5 years old. ASSERT uses research-based techniques to address the individual needs of each child. A personal instructor works with a child one-on-one for 20 hours a week focusing on the individualized plan tailored to their specific needs. 

Along with working on behavior and communication skills, ASSERT teaches the children social skills and encourages leisure and play activities with structured peer-play interactions.  Functional behavioral assessments and intervention techniques are used to address challenging behaviors. "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," Dr. Thomas S. Higbee said.  Higbee is a national expert on both assessment and intervention strategies for people with autism and the director of the ASSERT program.

The Center for Persons with Disabilities recognizes the importance of early diagnosis and intensive early interventions in alleviating the challenges associated with ASD.  By using a multi-pronged approach including researching the causes, raising the awareness of symptoms, early diagnosis, and using researched-based treatments, the CPD is benefitting the children with ASD and bringing hope to their families.

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CPD Developmental Playground Page

Visit this page to learn more about the playground, how it will help children develop and how you can help make it happen.

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