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Gabby Lalonde, Erin PrinceFive-year-old Gabby Lalonde receives treatment from behavioural therapist Erin Prince.

Early autism intervention, research and awareness at the heart of Summit Centre

Marcia Gragg believes that there is more hope today for kids with autism than ever before, and this progress is evident in the faces and happy voices of little ones and their parents at the Summit Centre for Preschool Children with Autism, located in the historic Maryvale building on Prince Road.

Dr. Gragg is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and has been on half-time loan from the University as the centre’s clinical director since 2002. She heads a team that not only provides direct service to children and their families, but offers parent training, conducts research and promotes public awareness around autism spectrum disorders.

She says early intensive intervention for children with such disorders can make all the difference in their success and the Summit Centre’s use of applied behaviour analysis has the best chance of producing lasting improvements.

“We believe the best way to help kids with autism is to get them younger and offer intensive treatment,” Gragg says.

This treatment involves setting goals with kids and their parents, breaking tasks into small steps, repetition of teaching, positive reinforcement, keeping precise track of progress, and teaching children to apply their new skills in all settings.

UWindsor psychology students are a large part of the team and fulfill a portion of their clinical placement requirements in support of such Summit Centre initiatives as the Specialized Teaching, Education, Partnership and Support (STEPS) program. Children in the program initially receive five full days of one-on-one applied behaviour analysis treatment each week, year round, in addition to in-home treatment aimed at improving language and communication, social skills and play, cooperative behaviour, and independent living skills.

Students are also involved in supporting Unity Intensive Parent Training, established in 2007 as a resource for parents whose children were on a wait list for STEPS services. The program helps train parents so they can effectively teach their own children using the behavioural techniques.

“We are blessed to have so many great students so we can do more than we ever have before,” Gragg says. “And it’s really awesome to see what the parents can do—they are so motivated, they really want to help their children learn.”

To find out more about the Summit Centre’s services and research initiatives visit: http://www.summitcentre.org/.