Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WY UCEDD) Launches ECHO Network for Families of Children with Autism

November 13, 2017

For Wyoming families that have a child with autism, large geographic distances and a shortage of resources limit the availability of providers, care, and support. UW ECHO for Families: Autism is bridging the gap. The Wyoming Institute for Disabilities (WIND) recently launched a new ECHO network to support families of children with autism. This virtual community was built by and for families of children with autism and meets weekly using videoconferencing technology.

Participants learn about autism, interventions that can be used in home and school, and how to navigate education and health care systems in Wyoming. Experts from around the state and nation come together to provide insight into interventions and best practices, while trained family mentors help facilitate every session. The commitment of this community is to build a network of families who are dedicated to supporting their own families and share those skills and experiences with other parents in similar circumstances.

What is UW ECHO?

The University of Wyoming Project ECHO offers on-line, professional development and support to communities around best practice in education, health, disability services, and family supports.  These networks provide Wyoming access to an interdisciplinary team of professionals using videoconferencing technology. The ECHO model was originally adapted by WIND for use in education and now includes thirteen ECHO networks in education, health, aging, and disabilities.

The UW ECHO for Families: Autism is the first ECHO network that provides an opportunity for virtual collaboration and support with families. This program operates in partnership with the Wyoming Family Mentorship program and Wyoming Department of Education to provide ongoing resources to families as they support and advocate for their children with autism.

Initial responses from families have been positive. Bobbie Henry of Cody has a son, Oscar, who has autism. "Being a parent of a child with autism, especially in rural Wyoming, can feel very isolating.  UW ECHO for Families: Autism has given me a place to share my experience as a parent of a child with autism with other families outside of my community, as well as continue learning about autism and resources available to us." Bobbie adds, "I can instantly connect with other families and build relationships, which has brought much support and comfort. The interactive on-line platform gives me the ability to have live conversations and ask questions that would otherwise be much more formal and impersonal through email or over the phone." 

UW ECHO Families: Autism builds upon existing local community supports for families, allowing them to share their experiences and successes, as well as brainstorm with professionals. In addition, the networks have applied the successful hub and spoke model upon which the original ECHO networks for health and education were built, allowing regional and local health care professionals and educators to connect and share practices to amplify their work.

This model of shared expertise, notes Canyon Hardesty, Director of Community Education for WIND, is the key. "The ECHO Family network functions using those same principles. In the case of family support and mentorship, parents are experts, and this virtual format allows them to share and learn from other experts - other parents."

Connecting families and professional resources across the rural, Wyoming landscape offers a significant, but achievable goal for UW ECHO Families: Autism. Concludes Hardesty, "We look forward to learning how to better engage and empower families using the ECHO model."