Autism program at Utah State University is helping kids across the world

Apr 23, 2024, 7:03 PM | Updated: 7:21 pm

LOGAN — An overseas supermodel turned philanthropist is getting help from Utah State University to teach children with autism.

Natalia Vodianova said she knows the challenges of autism because her younger sister, Oksana, has it.

“(Oksana) is a nonverbal autistic person. She’s 36 now, and she actually has also been benefiting from intervention. Not, unfortunately, when she was a child,” Natalia said.

Natalia is a known Russian supermodel who has appeared on several Vogue magazine covers, but she said her mission is with the Naked Heart Foundation, based in London. The foundation helps kids like Oksana, who brought her to USU’s Autism Support Services: Education, Research, and Training program.

Natalia playing with one of the kids at ASSERT.

Natalia playing with one of the kids at ASSERT. (KSL TV)

“We know that every student with autism is different, even though they share some common characteristics challenges in the areas of language and social behavior,” said USU professor Tom Higbee.

Higbee founded ASSERT, which takes an individual approach to give kids the tools they need to learn in more traditional schools.

Natalia said it’s why she sought out the program years ago and wanted to get NHF staffers training in Utah.

“The main thing is to meet the kids where they are and to also to set high standards, recognize that they have more in common with that other kids than they do differently,” Higbee said.

One of the kids in ASSERT.

One of the kids in ASSERT. (KSL TV)

After two weeks in Utah, Natalia now has her certification with ASSERT, which will help her expand NHF to France in the near future.

“All of it’s towards making sure that other families like ours, get support that they need early on so that it’s as effective as possible,” Natalia said.

Higbee said they’re constantly working with graduate students so that more working teachers can enter the world with these skills.

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Autism program at Utah State University is helping kids across the world