Associate Director Interviews: Amy Health, Director of the Autism Program (TX UCEDD)

November 3, 2016

One of our most exciting projects and collaboratives is The Autism Clinic (TAC), which partners with the Center and community providers in the Brazos Valley and statewide to provide services that address the education and community support needs of individuals with autism, including those with severe behavior challenges, and their families.
The overarching purpose of the TAC is to improve outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and other individuals with challenging behaviors in school, home, and community settings. Particular emphasis is placed on serving traditionally underserved populations, through partnerships with nonprofit agencies, local agencies, and schools. In an effort to achieve this objective, TAC partnered with Easter Seals East Texas, a community provider of rehabilitation services in the Brazos Valley, to develop the Autism Clinic at the Brazos Valley Rehabilitation Center which began providing services in June 2011.

Last year, the Autism Clinic provided approximately 11,800 hours of behavioral intervention and 7400 hours of social skills instruction, totaling approximately 19,200 hours of intervention services. In total, the Autism Clinic has provided approximately 36,900 hours of intervention services to date.

In addition to providing services to families and communities in the Brazos Valley, the clinic serves as a practice site for students at TAMU. Graduate level students seeking to fulfill the requirements to become BCBAs must complete up to 1,500 supervised hours. This supervision is difficult to access due to the limited number of BCBAs in Texas and the high cost of supervision (average of $7,500-10,000 total). The establishment of the Autism Clinic has provided a means for students at TAMU to acquire high-quality, intensive, field-based supervision while fulfilling the BCBA requirements. Last year, approximately 6 Special Education doctoral students, 9 masters' level students and 15 undergraduates have the opportunity for hands-on, in-vivo instruction and clinical experiences in the area of ABA. Additionally two doctoral students (Special Education) have served as Clinical Specialists to provide support to new therapists, providing one-on-one training and consultation with the supervision of Dr. Heath.

Dr. Amy Heath "always knew [she] wanted to focus on behavior" as a professional and began working on her Ph.D. under the supervision of Dr. Jeni Ganz. She received a leadership grant as a graduate student and soon after, began working on projects and research focused on Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism.  when asks why she becomes an Affiliated Faculty member of  the CDD, Heath replied, "I accepted the job at Easter Seals East Texas to be the director of the Autism Program. The Autism Program is a collaborative effort with the CDD. I took this job because I value the goals from both Easter Seals and the CDD and absolutely love that the clinic is connected to both the university and the community. It is the best of both worlds. We get to have a direct impact on the lives of families in the community while still getting to teach and train the next generation of teachers, therapists, BCBAs, and Psychologists. What is better and more fulfilling than that?"

I asked Amy what advice she would provide to those working with individuals with disabilities, and she responded, "I think everywhere I go I hear the same thought in a different phraseology, but the general idea of treating every one as a person rather than a disability. We need to stop focusing on what they can't do and start focusing on what they can do. Nobody on this earth wants to be defined by their weaknesses. By focusing on their strengths we are better equipped to push them that little bit to help them be even more independent and successful." 

In the future, Amy would like to "see a strengthened community in which all companies are working together to meet the needs everyone around them. I would like to see a network of supports so that when families come to us with a need we no longer have to say 'I am sorry but no one does that here you will have to drive to .....' but that we can say, 'Let me introduce you to ... they know exactly how to help!'

Amy is also part of our 
Purposeful Life: Family Workshop Series Leadership team and has been an incredible resource to our community. We cannot thank her enough for her support, expertise, and time with our Center and our families.

We wanted to highlight a few of Dr. Amy Heath's publications and thank her for her work: 

  • Heath, A. K., Ganz, J. B., Parker, R., Burke, M., & Ninci, J. (2015). A Meta-analytic Review of Functional Communication Training Across Mode of Communication, Age, and Disability. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-12.
  • Ganz, J. B., Mason, R. A., Goodwyn, F. D., Boles, M. B., Heath, A. K., & Davis, J. L., (2014). Interaction of participant characteristics and type of AAC with individuals with ASD: A meta-analysis. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 119(6), 516-535. doi: 10.1352/1944-7558-119.6.516
  • Ganz, J. B., Davis, J. L., Heath, A. K., & Vannest, K. J. (2013). Effects of a self-monitoring device on socially-relevant behaviors in adolescents with Asperger Disorder: A pilot study. Assistive Technology, 25(3), 149-157. doi: 10.1080/10400435.2012.732655
  • Bayes, D. A., Heath, A. K., Williams, C., & Ganz, J. B. (2013). Pardon the interruption: Enhancing communication skills for students with intellectual disability. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(2), 64-70.
  • Ganz, J. B., Goodwyn, F. D., Boles, M. B., Mason, R. A., Heath, A. K., & Davis, J. L., (2012). Interaction of participant characteristics and type of AAC with individuals with ASD: A meta-analysis. Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Ganz, J. B., Rispoli, M. J., Heath, A. K., Camargo, S., Plaisance, L., & Davis, J. L. (2012). Implementation of the Picture Exchange Communication System with bilingual children with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on receptive picture discrimination. Manuscript submitted for publication.
  • Ganz, J. B., Heath, A. K., Lund, E. M., Camargo, S., Rispoli, M. J., Boles, M. B., & Plaisance, L. (2012). Effects of peer-mediated visual scripts in middle school. Behavior Modification, 36(3), 378-398. DOI 10.1177/0145445512442214. (5- year CIF: 2.200).
  • Ganz, J. B., Earles-Vollrath, T. L., Heath, A. K., Parker, R., Rispoli, M. J., & Duran, J. (2012). A meta-analysis of single case research studies on aided augmentative and alternative communication systems with individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(1), 60-74. DOI 10.1007/s10803-011-1212-2. (5-year CIF: 4.365).
  • Ganz, J. B., Earles-Vollrath, T. L., Mason, R. A., Rispoli, M. J., Heath, A. K., & Parker, R. I. (2011). An aggregate study of single-case research involving aided AAC: Participant characteristics of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(4), 1500-1509. doi: 10.1016/j.rasd.2011.02.011. (5-year CIF: 2.916).
  • Ganz, J. B., Heath, A. K., Rispoli, M. J., & Earles-Vollrath, T. (2010). Impact of AAC versus verbal modeling on verbal imitation, picture discrimination, and related speech: A pilot investigation. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 22(2), 179-196. doi: 10.1007/s10882-009-9176-2. (5-year CIF: 0.924).
  • Heath, A. K., & Ganz, J. B. (commentary authors). (2009). A promising first attempt at implementing a modified Picture Exchange Communication System with three adolescents who were blind and had autism and moderate to severe cognitive impairments [abstract]. Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention. 3(2), 107-112. Abstract of Lund, S. K., & Troha, J. M. (2008). Teaching young people who are blind and have autism to make requests using a variation on the Picture Exchange Communication System with tactile symbols: A preliminary investigation. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 719-730.

 Contact Dr. Amy Heath at: