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USU Autism Program Spreads Internationally


  The Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training or ASSERT program at Utah State University works with pre-school kids with autism to help them learn to talk, take care of themselves and get ready for kindergarten.

It was founded in 2003 and is now spreading internationally. In November, educators from Russia came to the university to learn how to replicate the program in their own city.

Tatiana Morozova is one of those who traveled from Russia to Utah.

“We knew something of the program and we understood this program is exactly what we need. That it’s very intensive, quite comprehensive. It’s done on a very high level,” Morozova said. “And the team work … is very welcoming.”  

Credit old.sper.usu.edu

  According to program director and founder Thomas Higbee ASSERT teaching is unique because it serves as both a research and a training program.

“So in addition to helping the 15 families that we serve here locally, we’re also providing a place for future teachers, future psychologists, future speech and language pathologists to be trained on how to work effectively with young children with autism,” Higbee said.

Russia is an area where special education is just developing. 

“They don’t have anything like what these people are going to create,” Higbee said. “This will be the very first program in the whole country of Russia that’s publicly funded for pre-school age kids with Autism. So the opportunity to make an impact on a very large country is very neat.”

He also said, because of the knowledge ASSERT has gained, they can now share that with others.

“As a worldwide problem, where we have knowledge about how these systems work and what we can do to help these kids, I think we have a responsibility to try and share that,” Higbee said.

As Morozova and her colleagues have been setting up the program in one city, they have shown how useful it is to the parents of children with autism. Especially as they work to make it the first free autism program in the country.

“We have services in Russia now in Moscow and some other Russian cities, but none of them is free of charge. Parents have to pay a lot of money,” Morozova said. “The model we are using we are sure the services should be free of charge for parents.”

Higbee said he hopes the partnership will continue.

“Our long term goal is to continue to build the relationship so they can expand the services hopefully to more cities in Russia, once we demonstrate that this can be done in this one city,” Higbee said. “And I think it will provide opportunities for USU students eventually go over there and have international experiences too and provide this training too.”

Morozova is also optimistic about what the future will bring for autism programs in her country.

“I’m not sure every university will let foreigners to come and to be part of the team and to observe and to ask the questions,” Morozova said. “We are just very lucky.”