The ACT Program
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ACT Program | Assuming Competence Today
The ACT Program
The ACT Program was created in 2007 in order to promote the use of positive behavioral supports (communication, sensory, behavioral) that allowed nonverbal persons with autism to fully access an education focused on the general education curriculum. ACT Program was approved as a Private Day School through the Arizona Department of Education, and offered elementary through high school education with optimal supports for Academic achievement. While the school graduated its last class of high school students in December 2019, the ACT Program/Life Access is being offered beginning
January 2020 to allow late teen and adults with autism to fully access adult life experiences, provided with effective supports to do so.
Life Access is rooted in the same research and philosophy that drive all ACT and NMTSA programs. It was initially thought of to provide support for individuals in or seeking to enter into college, work or volunteer positions. However, the program is designed to offer support to adults of all ages and life paths. Individuals may seek support to enter into, maintain, or improve a work, educational, or volunteer opportunity. Additionally, Life Access seeks to provide support to help participants lead more connected, well-rounded, and meaningful lives. To serve this purpose, Life Access also offers a number of clubs, classes, social, and communication groups. Some offerings are groups that meet at regular times, but there are also services, like home or work program development, which may be done individually. Participants select offerings that they are interested in and times they are available to participate. The schedule is ultimately created based on everyone’s interests and availability.
ACT (Assuming Competence Today) School was conceptualized in August 2005, by incorporating empirical findings from an intensive summer therapy program, Kris’ Camp, and 35 years of clinical experiences working with persons with autism. ACT was approved as a private day school by the Arizona Department of Education in February 2007 (certified to serve students in grades 1-12) and began providing its elementary education services on February 5, 2007.
Although 2007 was the first year for the ACT educational program, this classroom model had been used successfully in recurring Kris’ Camp therapy programs since 1995. Additionally, the corresponding treatment philosophy had been implemented by NMTSA therapists for over 28 years.
Indispensable elements of ACT Program’s best practice approach are identified below. (Primary researchers are indicated, however, a complete list of research references is available at the end of this document.)
The identification of autism as primarily a psychomotor regulation disorder (i.e. an inability to initiate, inhibit, and/or sustain movement which impedes demonstration of true intent and masks cognition (Dziuk et al., 2007; Nayate, Bradshaw, & Rinehart, 2005; Rineshart, Bradshaw, Brereton, & Tonge, 2001; Teitelbaum et al., 2004; Teitelbaum, Teitelbaum, Nye, Fryman, & Mauer, 1998; Vilensky, Damasio, & Maurer, 1981)
The identification of emotional motor dysregulation that exacerbates the psychomotor regulation symptomatology (Dapretto et al., 2006; Trevarthen et al., 1998; Williams, 1996)
The presumption of competence due to lack of empirical data linking autism and mental retardation, and the existence of data linking dyspraxia in autism to decrease IQ scores (Biklen & Burke, 2006; Biklen & Kliewer, 2006; Dawson, Soulieres, Gernsbacher, & Mottron, 2007; Donnelan 2006; Edelson, 2006)
The provision of competency-based communication accommodations that decrease frustration and thus improve emotional motor responses; provision of a communication system that allows for active, ongoing, open-ended communication vs. fixed and predetermined responses (Biklen & Burke, 2006; Donnelan, 2006; Wetherby, Prizant, & Schuler, 2000)
The provision of sensory accommodations that improve sensory processing and facilitate motor mapping which in turn allows for skill demonstration and initiation of novel motor patterns (Anzalone & Williamson, 2000)
The provision of rhythmic accommodations that prime the motor system and facilitate initiation and fluency of movement as well as improve cognitive processing via neurologic music therapy standardized interventions (Hardy & Lagasse, 2013; Thaut, 2005)
The use of the “Least to Most Strategy” (i.e. providing varying levels of touch support to maximize independence while allowing for optimal demonstration of cognitive potential) (Chadwick, 1995)
The recognition and ongoing provision of varying levels of support (i.e. physical, communication, emotional) and the provision and fading of those supports as needed (Institution on Communication and Inclusion, 2000)