A program developed at UCP of Southern Arizona to help children with autism and other developmental disorders in at-home, one-on-one sessions added a Cactus Club last year to provide experience and growth in social interaction.
ASCEND grew out of the efforts of Cindy Mars, UCPSA’s CEO since 2002, to leverage the tools of applied behavior analysis (ABA) that help children flourish in their environments Regina Maendler created the present framework and built a library of teaching programs and resources.
At first, ASCEND provided early intervention for ages 2 through 6 through the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities. Now it includes older children through insurance programs, part of a continuum of UCPSA services that can support people from preschool to working adults.
“Early intervention is the foundation for how to learn and communicate,” says Caitlin Welty, who joined the program in 2017 and became director in November. “Kids past that age need to learn how to navigate social interactions with peers, how to follow along with family’s daily routine without refusing to participate, all sorts of different skills you don’t get in early intervention.”
Two groups of Cactus Club, the Saguaros ages 7-12 and the younger Succulents, meet for activities such as science experiments and cooperative games or more basic skills such as greeting, sharing, and taking turns. Welty hopes to add a teen group to help navigate those socially fraught years.
“We take into account what the family wants to work on and what the family finds valuable for their kid and their life,” Welty says. “We don’t have our own agenda. We also provide family training., which basically means we are giving the family assistance in how to work on everything our technicians work on in one-on-one settings. It helps continue the progress for the kid.”
ASCEND, based in Tucson, now serves 25 families. In addition to Welty and administrator DeAnn White, both Board Certified Behavior Analysts, the staff includes administrators Cedez Douglas and Danielle Thorp and 17 mostly part-time technicians, including interns from the University of Arizona.
While many for-profit services focus on early intervention, which can involve upwards of 20 hours a week, UCPSA seeks to provide longer-term help to ensure success. The agency collaborates with others who are helping children, including schools, for effective coordination. “Our goal is to serve our community,” Welty says. “That gives us more flexibility and creativity. We can help you for basically your entire life if you need. The possibilities are almost endless.”