Project ASCEND

Students who have been accepted into the Master's Program in the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS) and Special Education departments can apply to participate in Project ASCEND (Autism Social Communication, Engagement, and Neurodiversity)

About Project ASCEND

Project ASCEND is a 2-year Masters-level training program supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant # H325K170053). The co-directors of the project are Drs. Betty Yu and Michael Clarke. The grant began in 2023. The aim of Project ASCEND is to recruit and train four cohorts of 10 scholars from SLHS respectively over 5 years (40 scholars total). Multilingual SLPs and SLPs of color will learn to provide high quality, evidence-based services within inclusive settings to young nonspeaking autistic children and their families who benefit from augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) supports. 

The acronym ASCEND conveys our commitment to creating an alliance among professionals, families and community partners by:

  • Recruiting scholars who are racial/ethnic minorities, multilingual, and/or autistic 
  • Providing autism-affirming, culturally/linguistically responsive, person-and family-centered speech-language therapy services informed by critical reviews of current research on autism, AAC, multilingualism, and early childhood development
  • Collaborating with autistic people, their family members, relevant community partners, and interprofessional colleagues
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL), inclusion, and access across contexts

The philosophic foundations of Project ASCEND are consistent with the professional practice guidelines put forth by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2006; n.d.) and Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) (2009) which emphasize the need for interdisciplinary, family-centered, developmentally-based, and culturally/linguistically competent services.

After the successful completion of the program, SLP scholars will meet the requirements for an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association-accredited Master of Science degree in SLP, California Credential in SLP Services, and the California state license in SLP. Scholars will receive the Augmentative and Alternative (AAC) Graduate Certificate issued by San Francisco State University.

Program Requirements for SLHS Students

Project ASCEND is designed to be completed by SLHS graduate students within the time frame of the Master's program. Students who participate in the training program will be required to complete project-specific activities in the following areas:

  1. Coursework: Trainees will take two courses (6 units) in addition to the coursework required for their graduate degree and credentialing. These include courses that provide advanced level of knowledge and skills in AAC and Autism.

    • SPED 791: Nature of Autism Spectrum Disorders (Spring Year 1) (3 units)
    • SPED 746: Teaching Students with Physical and Other Health Impairments (Fall Year 2)(3 units)
  2. Clinical Training: Trainees must complete two levels of clinical training that are integrated into the existing SLHS graduate program practica.
    • First Year: Trainees will select the Neurodiversity Affirming Communication Supports for Families Clinic (SLHS 880 + 713) supervised by Dr. Betty Yu as one of their on-campus child clinics. 
    • Second Year: Trainees will be placed in a school internship with a focus on service delivery to nonspeaking autistic students following inclusive principles.
  3. Research: Trainees must participate in a research lab focusing on the analysis of multilingual social communication between autistic children and communication partners in natural settings.
    • SLHS 899 Independent Study (Research Lab): Scholars will take at least one research lab rotation at Dr. Yu's Translingual Bodyminds Lab and/or Dr. Clarke's InterAACtion Lab. Research will integrate closely with scholars' clinical practica in SLHS 880/713: Neurodiversity Affirming Clinic.
  4. Professional Learning Community (PLC): In the past year, a robust online Professional Learning Community (PLC) was launched to offer connectedness and information about neurodiversity affirming approaches to internship mentors and SLP interns. Project ASCEND will develop a monthly, online Neurodiversity & AAC Learning Community specifically for scholars, faculty/clinical instructors/internship supervisors, and parents/caregivers. 
  5. Seminars: Trainees in Project ASCEND will participate in seminars in the Integrated Play Groups [IPG] model.
  6. Annual Conferences: Trainees will attend two local annual conferences as part of their training. They will have the opportunity to attend state-of-the-art presentations, network, present their own work, meet representatives from local school districts and agencies, and meet prospective employers.   
    • The SF State Early Childhood Special Education Conference: 1-day Spring conference
    • The Stanford Neurodiversity Summit: 3-day virtual conference in October
  7. Regular Meetings: Trainees will meet regularly several times each semester with co-directors and with others in our local autism communities.  

Post-Graduation Service Obligation

Within five years after graduation, trainees are required to satisfy a service obligation in return for the scholarship assistance they received. SLHS graduates must work on a full-time or a full-time equivalent basis as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), an SLP supervisor, a postsecondary instructor or researcher in speech-language-hearing or related services for three years. A majority of the work (at least 51%) that graduates perform must be related to the training that they received in the field of speech-language-hearing, special education, early intervention, or related services for children with disabilities. At least part of the services provided must benefit children on the autism spectrum. Part-time employment may be used to satisfy the obligation (for example, working half-time for four years to fulfill the equivalent of a two year obligation). At least once a year, graduates will submit a report of the following to the directors of Project ASCEND, including:

  • Contact information
  • Description of any employment that counts toward fulfilling their service obligation
  • Employer information
  • If needed, any requests for an exception or deferral from the service obligation

Stipend Support

The majority (65%) of the funds for Project ASCEND is devoted to trainee support in the form of stipends. It is expected that four cohorts of 10 trainees will be accepted into the program (40 trainees total over 5 years). Each trainee will receive over $15,000 in stipends and funded activities over the course of their participation in the program.

Applying to Project ASCEND

Students who have been accepted to the SLHS Master's Program and who are interested in applying for Project ASCEND should contact Dr. Betty Yu at for more information, or to obtain an application.