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Online Presentation Will Help Families, Teachers Boost Independence and Task Completion in People With Autism

Registration is open now for a free online workshop on Jan. 29 for parents, educators and other professionals who work with children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). 

The workshop, titled, “Building Independence and Social Skills of Learners with Autism and Related Disorders Using Photographic Activity Schedules” will be presented by Tom Higbee, PhD, professor and department head in the Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Department at Utah State University. Workshop sponsors include BYU’s McKay School of Education, Utah State University, SPARK, and Utah Regional LEND.

Tom Higbee, USU
USU Professor Tom Higbee will present the workshop, organized by Terisa Gabrielsen of the McKay School.

Photographic activity schedules can help promote independence in people with ASD by providing a series of images that illustrate the order in which a task must be completed. Using the schedule in order can help children with ASD independently complete school assignments, chores, and other tasks, reducing the “prompt dependency” that can occur when they must be prompted by another person to get through tasks.

The schedules can help children in academic settings, but potential applications extend far beyond the classroom, said Terisa Gabrielsen, PhD, organizer of the workshop and associate professor in the McKay School’s Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education. 

“You can extrapolate it to pretty much anything you want,” Gabrielsen said. “If you want them to go play independently at recess, you could use a visual schedule for that, or if you want them to take turns with conversation at dinner, you could use a visual schedule to teach the basics of that skill. It’s a pretty powerful tool.”

For this reason, Gabrielsen said, the workshop should appeal not only to teachers who work with students with ASD, but also to parents, caregivers and education support professionals, like school psychologists, speech language pathologists and other clinicians.

 The workshop is free and will take place live from 2 to 4 p.m. MST on Friday, January 29. To register, visit

The workshop is a pandemic-year alternative to the annual BYU Autism Workshop, which has featured Higbee and his research in the past, Gabrielsen said. In keeping with the traditions of that conference, the upcoming workshop will focus on a single topic. For those who register for this workshop, other autism intervention training opportunities will be offered in the spring.

 “We like to present transitional research; in the medical world it’s called ‘bench to bedside,’” Gabrielsen said. “It takes scientific findings and gets them into practice right away. In the universities we’re doing and monitoring research, and we’re trying to get that out to you each year in terms of what we are learning about autism.”