Thomas Higbee: the Experience of the Naked Heart Foundation Will Become a Good Example of Using Modern Early Intervention Programmes for Children with ASD in Russia

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10 December 2019

In Moscow, a seminar about the Intensive Early Behavioural Intervention ASSERT Programme seminar was held on the basis of the Moscow State University of Psychology and Education. It was organised by the Naked Heart Foundation and the Federal Resource Center (FRC) for Organization of Comprehensive Support to Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) of MSUPE. It was attended by Thomas Higbee, an author of the ASSERT programme, professor, dean of Special Education faculty at Utah State University; the experts of the Naked Heart Foundation: Tatiana Morozova, clinical psychologist, and Svyatoslav Dovbnya, child neurologist, and Artur Khaustov, director of the Federal Resource Centre.

The seminar was intended to introduce Russian specialists in the field of child development to arranging a modern early intervention programme for young children with ASD, to present a modern programme for pre-school children with ASD and a training system for specialists working with such children.

The ASSERT programme, developed under the leadership of Thomas Higbee in 2003, is implemented in Russia by the Naked Heart Foundation as part of the Early Intervention project. The project aims to develop early intervention services for pre-school children with ASD and other special needs, as well as to train parents and specialists to work with such children, providing their institutional and legal support.

ASSERT is an innovative intensive early intervention programme aimed to support little children with autism, based on the ideas of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). The programme is aimed to develop communication, independent living, academic, playing and social skills, as well as to minimise undesirable behaviour. The programme is based on intensive training with children 4 hours per day five days a week. The ASSERT specialists assess the development, carefully study the preferences of the child and use them for shaping the desirable behaviour. It helps to teach necessary skills to the child in a more effective and quick manner. Today, in addition to the intensive basic programme for children with high-level speech and academic skills, there is also a group for social skills, where children study 12 hours per week. All children, receiving help under the ASSERT programme, also attend pre-school institutions.

An important part of the mission of the ASSERT programme is also trainings for specialists (Bachelor’s and Master’s students, Ph. D. students, as well as postgraduate classes for teachers working in schools and kindergarens). The ASSERT specialists also do research aimed to improve children’s early intervention practices. The seminar in MSUPE attracted great interest among speech therapists, special teachers, psychologists, tutors, social teachers and parents with children with autism; we had to arrange an additional room with a live broadcast to accommodate all participants. At the same time, participation in the seminar was completely free for all.

«324 people from 27 regions of Russia, as well as from Georgia, visited us, and about 1,100 specialists registered to watch the broadcast remotely. It’s important. I am sure that the ASSERT programme can be integrated into the state support system for children with ASD,» — Artur Khaustov said.

Starting the seminar, Thomas Higbee told in detail about intensive behavioural analysis as the basis of the ASSERT programme and other behavioural programmes with high proven effectiveness.

Besides, Mr Higbee described the differences in behavioural motivation among typically developing children and children with ASD, and what training a child with autism must pass in order to enter kindergarten or school.

Then Professor Higbee turned directly to the ASSERT structure and techniques, and explained how the programme is adapted to the specifics of the country.

«The development of the support system for children with autism based on the ASSERT programme is still to go a long way. But the services that started implementing the programme in Russia have already achieved great success. The experience of the Naked Heart Foundation and its partners that shows the effectiveness of the programme can be a good example for other organisations, both public and state», Thomas Higbee expressed his opinion.

«Today Russian specialists have already become familiar with assessment of children’s development and the selection of individual programmes,» commented Tatiana Morozova. «But there are new tasks, for example, modification of some programmes and procedures; besides, ASSERT specialists in educational institutions should learn how to engage parents, school and kindergarten specialists in a more active manner and to cooperate with their colleagues whose work has no direct relation to the programme.»

«Of course, much of what Thomas Higbee said, especially at the beginning of his speech, was already familiar to me, because we have been working with the Naked Heart Foundation for seven years in the Early Intervention project and have been involved in implementing elements of the ASSERT programme for about five years. However, a personal meeting with the developer of this programme, who I saw for the first time, helped to structure my knowledge substantially. In addition, at the practical level, we have heard a lot of new things — there will be something to discuss with colleagues back home,» said Lyudmila Kurochkina, director of Tver Regional Centre for Psychological, Pedagogical and Medical and Social Assistance.

The Thomas Higbee’s programme in Russia then continued with visits to the Naked Heart Family Support Centre and the Early Intervention Centre in Nizhny Novgorod, where the American expert conducted a supervision visit for his colleagues working on the ASSERT programme in the Early Intervention project. Dr Higbee was very impressed with the work of the programme on the basis of the Naked Hearts Family Support Centre and the Early Intervention Centre.

«An important advantage of the ASSERT programme is the ability to simultaneously work with children and train specialists on the acquired examples. Thus, we not only provide assistance to the families with children with autism but also prepare people who will be able to do it themselves in the future,» — said Tatiana Morozova.

Today, the Naked Heart Foundation is implementing the Early Intervention project for children with ASD in Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Also, we regularly hold free seminars for Russian specialists conducted by leading experts representing the most effective modern methods of working with people with special needs.

In November of this year, the nakedheart. online platform was launched which contains scientific and methodological materials, podcasts, video recordings of events — all the scientific and practical experience accumulated by the Foundation in working with children with special needs.

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