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August Race To Support Autism Program
An ASSERT student and his mother at the 2014 First Dam Pancake Run

A charity organization, Race 4 a Cause, will hold the second annual First Dam Pancake Run on Aug. 15  in Logan to raise funds for a preschool program at Utah State University called Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training, or ASSERT.

Ali Andrus, one of the race coordinators, said she and her husband, Mike Andrus, started the run a year ago because they both have family members who have been diagnosed with autism. She said the purpose of this race is not solely to raise funds by those who enter.

“I know last year, they got a donation from a pediatric’s office just because they heard about it,” she said. “So we’re trying to also bring awareness so that the community knows that it’s there, and they’re welcome to obviously make donations at any time.”

ASSERT director, Tom Higbee, said the Utah legislature recently approved of a new clinical building for the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, which will house ASSERT. He said proceeds from the race will go towards buying new supplies, toys and learning materials for the program as it prepares to transition into the new facility.

Amy Heaps, an instructor for ASSERT, said the program helps children with autism become independent.

“Some our kids, they didn’t talk when they came in,” Heaps said. “But now these kids are talking, and they’re going out to typically developing kindergartens next year.”

Higbee said these children are taught through Applied Behavior Analysis. This means ASSERT workers look at how each child’s abilities compare with his or her typically developing peers. They then create opportunities for the children to develop the skills they need. He said the workers give the children positive reinforcement when they do what they are told.

“It’s because we use a positive-reinforcement-based approach, it makes it really fun for the kids and helps motivate them to be more interested in the social world and to do the things that they’ll need to do to be successful in life and in their educational programs,” Higbee said.

Higbee said another part of ASSERT is research, and recently the program did a study in which the workers taught children with autism to play hide-and-seek with their typically developing peers.

“And it ended up being a really good program because it helped promote inclusion of kids with disabilities, it helped promote language and appropriate play,” Higbee said.

More information about the race, including how to enter, can be found here.