Virginia Tech brings autism services to rural communities

Published: Sep. 28, 2018 at 7:33 PM EDT
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Virginia Tech is making it easier for rural communities to access education and autism services.

The Virginia Tech Mobile Autism Clinic is hitting the road.

"We're going to Galax. It's about an hour and half south of here," PhD student, Ashley Muskett said.

She and her partner, Jordan Albright, want to help communities that have barriers to accessing autism services.

"Things like unemployment, financial needs, even geographic barriers where it's just difficult to get to places that have services," Dr. Angela Scarpa, director of Virginia Tech's Center for Autism Research, said.

She explained that autism is a neuro-developmental condition with two core features.

"One includes difficulties with social skills and social competence and the other is actually excesses in repetitive behaviors and restricted interests," Scarpa said.

For 7-year-old Jaida Nelson that means struggling with her emotions.

"She gets upset quickly and so with that she has a hard time calming herself down when something bothers her or annoys her," Nicki Nelson, Jaida's grandmother, said.

However, with the help of these Virginia Tech PhD students she is seeing improvement.

"This particular clinic has helped her understand her emotions and her feelings," Nelson said. "With the pictures they've done and asking her what this emotion means with this face, that's helped her a lot."

It's also benefiting the students.

"Really all of my training and working with kids with autism comes from this clinic," Muskett said.

And it motivates them to work hard to help people.

"One thing that has always motivated me is working with kids and seeing how resilient they are and how able they are to take the things we talk about in sessions and they're able to apply these skills," Albright said.

More information about VT's Autism Clinic and Center for Autism Research can be found on its