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Autism Spectrum Disorder

The video above includes a testimonial from one of our former students with ASD who expressed how Redcliff Ascent’s wilderness program helped him.

RedCliff Ascent, an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) program for teens and young adults, serves many different populations and diagnosis. The following article will highlight Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how we effectively help these clients.

A recent study by the CDC shows that Autism Spectrum Disorder is now affecting one in every 68 children, a staggering number. What exactly is ASD? A brief definition reads “the persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts. It includes restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities…”

ASD includes a vast range of symptoms spanning from low functioning individuals, who struggle to communicate and need assistance with daily life skills to high functioning with little to no assistance needed.

Dr. Temple Grandin is an example of a person diagnosed with ASD who has excelled in her chosen field of study and has demonstrated a much-respected level of resilience. She is an American professor of animal science at Colorado State University, a world-renowned autism spokesperson and functions as a consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior. She recently published an article noting that these higher functioning individuals are considered to have what used to be called Aspergers. The Aspergers diagnosis is no longer recognized in the medical and mental health fields. However, many who are diagnosed with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder do not believe their diagnosis to be a disability. They truly look at it as a gift.

At RedCliff Ascent we look at all of our students through a strength based lens whether a teen is blessed or challenged with ASD, or any other developmental diagnosis. Often, what we see in the wilderness are teens that see themselves differently than their peers and family members. They tend to struggle deeply with their own identity. Being different from the perceived norm can make life a challenge, especially in the difficult moments that form one’s teenage years.

If your child is in need of direction in their life and you have the suspicion they may be on the Autism Spectrum, there are many advantages to being in a wilderness program. The ability to remove them from daily distractions also opens opportunities that allow them to focus on more formalized testing that will better yield a diagnosis.

Why come to RedCliff Ascent to help your child with ASD? At RedCliff, your son or daughter will be challenged with figuring out how to accept and internalize that having ASD does not define who they are as a person. They will learn to be resilient and manage the frustrating aspects of ASD at an age appropriate level. They will benefit greatly from learning alongside their peers and staff the lifelong principles of; healthy emotions, respect, boundaries, gratitude and so much more. RedCliff Ascent provides a highly structured environment that allows students to have success, create a sense of self and discover their own strengths.

About the author – Kim Burnett graduated from Utah Valley University with a Bachelor degree in Outdoor Leadership and Community Health. After some time working at RedCliff as a field guide, she returned to school and received her Master’s in Social Work at the University of Utah. She gained her love for wilderness therapy while working for Redcliff Ascent. She has worked in several wilderness therapy programs, residential programs, hospital inpatient therapy, interim drug treatment groups, DBT Clinic, foster care and children of military personnel. Kim also has 5 years of experience working with people with disabilities, including Autism.

RedCliff Ascent in the news: Troubled kids lose weight, boost mood with wilderness tx

Recently Redcliff Ascent and Steve Demille, Ph.D. were highlighted by MedPage Today! The focus of the article written by Kristina Fiore, Associate Editor for MedPage Today, was on the research that Dr. Demille has done at Redcliff on the physical and mental health of students while in the wilderness. MedPage Today article

The results of his research show that teens improve their physical and mental health while in the wilderness. You can read more about the results of the study here on our website: http://www.redcliffascent.com/health-of-my-child-while-in-a-wilderness-program/

The findings show health improvements for the participants in the program and come as added relief for parents who question whether their son or daughter is going to be healthy and safe while living full time out of doors. Although it may seem logical that someone overweight may lose body fat and improve overall BMI, it is just as important to note the weight gain and muscle mass gain of those teens who come in underweight. “As they became more physically fit, they became more emotionally fit,” DeMille told MedPage Today. “Eating healthy and getting daily exercise in the open air is going to improve most anyone’s health,” says one parent of a student at Redcliff’s Wilderness program. The study was conducted on over 500 kids ages 13-17 yrs. old.

“We believe it’s a combination of healthy living (with food and exercise), the use of adventure experiences as a change agent, the natural and logical consequences of being in the wilderness, the curative effects of nature, group living, and the empowerment of therapeutic technique in wilderness settings,” – Michael Gass, PhD

Additional info: Doctors Tell Us How Hiking Can Change Our Brains

Proper perspective in the face of life’s challenges

Proper perspective life


By: Christopher Tolen Psy.D – Therapist and Director of Testing
Several years ago, a wise ecclesiastical leader of mine taught me a great lesson. He helped me to understand that a pebble held close to the eye appears to be larger-than-life, an object of gigantic proportion. With the pebble very close to your eye, it is difficult to see people and the world around you. It’s even difficult to see the pebble clearly for what it is. It becomes a large, blurry blob.  However, when the pebble is pulled away from the eye and held out at a distance, it can be seen clearly. When I get a proper perspective on the pebble, I am able to recognize it for what it truly is and know its place in my world.

Similarly, there are problems in our lives–trials and difficulties–that often take the place of a pebble held very close to the eye. These problems are seen as larger-than-life, monumental, and the center of our world. We are unable to see the world around us and we are also unable to see the problem clearly for what it is.  Fortunately, with a little bit of effort, some time, and maybe even the help of a guide or a teacher, we can put our problems into perspective and into their proper place, and find our direction in life. Once the pebble is removed from our vision, we are able to move forward, seeing the world more clearly, and perhaps place our problems in proper perspective. The problem is still there, but it is much more manageable and in its proper place.

photo Phirun Sam copyright Ascent Companies 2015

Remembering The RedCliff Ascent Alumni Reunion

Here is a link to the 2016 reunion (April 21, 22, 23 2016) registration online! 2016 REDCLIFF ASCENT REUNION REGISTRATION

Remembering our 2013 Alumni Reunion

Held at our Outpost facility (where our normal graduations take place) the 2013 reunion was a ton of fun and brought so many of our great alumni and friends back together!  Below we would like to share some photos of our alumni and parents who attended!   We miss you all and hope to see you in 2016!

Redcliff Alumni Reunion

Redcliff reunion mom bowdrill fire

Redcliff reunion parent bowdrill fire

Redcliff reunion dad bowdrill fire

Redcliff reunion Demille

Redcliff reunion crafts

Redcliff reunion rope bridge hangout

Redcliff reunion wood carving group

Redcliff reunion medicine wheel tent

Redcliff reunion hiking path

Below are some of the comments we’ve received after the last two reunions. We hope to hear from you and see you soon!

“Had an amazing time!  Couldn’t have been better!”

“Fantastic organization and an amazing couple of days.  Well worth the trip from the UK.  It was wonderful to share with our student some of what he experienced when at RedCliff and to see him happy to return.  The interaction between past students was wonderful to see, sharing their memories and their time since RedCliff.”

“Incredible and more than I ever expected!”

“Thank you”

“Loved the opportunity to come back and connect with so many others who have had a similar experience.  Nobody else can truly understand it.  I loved being back in the field and making new friends.”

“Amazing.  I’ll be here next time, too.”

“Loved it.”

“This was a great refresher for our student’s to get back in touch with themselves and for us as parents to remember just how far our kids have come.”

“Happy to have shared this time with all the alumni – they are amazing people which RCA has contributed to making!”

“This was wonderful.  I’m glad we made this reunion happen.  Thanks so much!”

“Could not have been any better!  Please have another reunion!”

A long history of success with wilderness treatment – Pioneers in research

What can Redcliff Ascent attribute their long history of successful wilderness treatment to? What are the drivers and indicators that have led to constant improvement and better outcomes for troubled teens and their families? Although there are many factors, Steven DeMille shares his story and RedCliff Ascent’s history in pioneering research methods and publishing results over the years…

By Steven DeMille, LCMHC
In fall of 1999 I came across an advertisement for a job as a guide at a wilderness therapy program. I was quite interested; at the time I was working road construction in the Las Vegas heat. After minimal consideration, I moved to Southern Utah and took a job as a field guide. I quickly saw the impact that treatment in a wilderness setting had on adolescents. I experienced adolescents grow in self-confidence and competence. I experienced them develop healthy life goals and make healthy lifestyle decisions. They became more aware of themselves and others. They stopped trying to defeat structure and started embracing structure, rules and boundaries. The list of changes could go on.

After years of witnessing the impact of treatment in a wilderness program I wanted to share this with others. This became the seed that grew into my current interest in research. I understood that one of the most effective ways to show others the impact of treatment was through conducting research. I am now the Research Director for RedCliff Ascent and work to educate others on the importance of collecting data to support claims that “our program works.”

Demille Research

RedCliff has a long history of conducting research. Over 15 years ago we conducted the first outcome study on treatment effectiveness. A few years later RedCliff was part of the seminal outcome study conducted by Keith Russell that further demonstrated the effectiveness of treatment in a wilderness setting. RedCliff was also the major contributor to a separate outcome study published a few years ago in the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs. In addition to the various outcome studies, RedCliff published the first physiological outcome study which showed that not only does a participant’s mental health improve but their general health improves as well. These studies show that wilderness therapy is an effective treatment to improve family relationships, communication, emotional regulation, and self esteem, as well as a myriad of other issues facing our adolescents today.
As part of RedCliff Ascent’s ongoing commitment to providing quality treatment, we continue to conduct research with students and their families during and after the treatment process. Much of the success at RedCliff is due to students and families participation in this research, and their contribution to the legacy of research-informed treatment at RedCliff.

Demille wilderness research

Occasionally you will receive emails with requests for information regarding your child’s behaviors. Please take the time to fill out all questionnaires and assessments. This allows us to monitor our services and make improvements as needed. All information will be kept confidential and when information is used for program development trainings, or collected for analysis, all identifying information is removed and your identity and your child’s will be completely anonymous.

Thank you to everyone who has participated with us over the last fifteen years, and to those who continue to do so. Your support of RedCliff’s effort to provide the highest quality services also helps answer future parents when they ask “does your program work?”

Struggling, Failing, Persevering, Mastering new Wilderness Skills – Metaphors for daily life

by Kodiak and Black Bear

Rabbit Stick is a gathering of people who come together from all over the country and the world to share knowledge and skills concerning primitive culture. Many of these individuals hold regular jobs in the outside world but have grown to love the things they have learned at Rabbit Stick and often return.

Upon arriving at Rabbit Stick, I noticed first the immediate sense of community that we all shared, in spite of a great diversity in our backgrounds. Some, like me, came to enjoy the week and learn new skills, while others used their skills as a part of their daily lives. The amount of trust, honesty, companionship, and love was astounding to me with such a diverse group. Instructors and participants were excited to share their knowledge with others for very little in return and everyone encouraged hands-on participation in the activities.

Wilderness Training Rabbit Stick 2014

Some of the classes that were offered included: basket weaving, knife making, brain skin tanning, buckskin sewing, felting, archery practice and bow making, medicinal plant uses, plant identification and foraging, cordage, atlatl throwing, survival kits, and a number of other skills and activities. Although some of these skills might not prove to be used as consistently as others in my daily life, it reignited an excitement for learning about primitive culture and a serious desire to share these skills.

Wilderness Training RabbitStick 2014

During my time at Red Cliff, I’ve noticed that when we as leaders are excited to teach and learn skills, so are the staff that we are training and the students that we are teaching. Primitive skills are a great way to challenge ourselves and our students in the field. The process of struggling, failing, persevering, and ultimately mastering these skills, holds endless metaphors for therapeutic interpretation. The lessons learned during that struggle are ultimately the same ones that will carry our students through later trials in their lives.

I was humbled by my experience as a student in the flintknapping and basket weaving classes (not as easy as it sounds or they make it look!). The instructors’ encouragement to practice and keep working even when there was clearly a lack of ability gave me greater appreciation into what our students experience and how we as instructors can affect their experience.

Throughout the week, we met some individuals who had a direct knowledge of RCA, some who knew of Wilderness Therapy, and a good portion who had never heard of either. I was proud to be able to explain what we do and why it works, and to share our experiences. I’m grateful that I work in a position where I get to see firsthand the difference in our student’s lives and to see young people make the changes that I know they’re capable of.

Wilderness Training 2014

The Impact of an Earth Name

We received this letter from the mother of one of our alumni recently: 

“One of the more impactful things our son experienced while at RCA was receiving his earth name.  It was the first thing he shared with us at graduation camp and it continues to influence him every day.  For several weeks after his return it was very emotional for him to share the remarkable description Phoenix had written about him.  We want to express our thanks to her for recognizing the special qualities in our son, “White Onyx Hawk”, that may have otherwise gone unnoticed and certainly unspoken.

He’s been back home now for a little over two months and still wears his Powaka every day.  Hawk’s major focus at school this year is art as he hopes to attend an art school next year.  The influence of RCA is captured in much of his artwork.  Here’s one example that the staff at RCA will enjoy.”
Earth Name Letter

Thanks so much for sending this!  Good luck with everything!


Rabbitstick 2014, Primitive Skills for Wilderness Survival

James W. – Cloud Ibex
In September I was given the opportunity to attend an annual primitive skills gathering known as Rabbitstick. The event is held in Rexburg, Idaho every year, bringing in hundreds of people with a common interest. Having worked at RedCliff Ascent for over a year, I was selected for my contributions to the company and commitment to stay another year. With this privilege I was invited to pursue lessons and activities I could bring back to further influence the primitive skills culture of the staff and students at RedCliff Ascent.Rabbitstick Primitive Survival Skills

Prior to attending Rabbitstick I did not have a sincere appreciation for true primitive living methods. I was proficient in making alternative fires, and I did not expect to learn much more than that. Arriving at the gathering in Idaho, I immediately felt a good vibe from everyone there. Every person greeted me as if I were an old friend, most in the form of gigantic bear hugs. It was apparent I was surrounded by a good community of people, where everyone’s intention was to share their knowledge for future generations.

Rabbitstick primitive survival skills 2

Rabbitstick 2014 Primitive Skill Trainee!

On the first day I sat at the flint knapping station with the goal to create an arrowhead. Fairly quickly I became frustrated with my progress while chipping away at a chunk of Obsidian. I understood the tools and technique, but my work resulted in my rock looking like nothing more than a smaller rock. However, I was drawn back to the flint knapping tent mainly due to the company of people there. I appreciated the consistent instructions and life stories from the teachers. They always spoke in such a calm manner and with greater meaning, constantly pointing out and laughing at their mistakes. When an entire piece did break someone would simply smile, throw it in a pile of rocks, and pick up another. I soon realized that I will not be mastering flint knapping anytime soon, and possibly never. I also realized that I would only progress by finding success through failure.

As with all primitive skills, I learned that the real talent is not the tools or methods used. It is inspiration, imagination, and the patience of the creator that are necessary to build the primitive artwork. As a result of Rabbitstick I am encouraged that I do not have to be a master of any of these new skills in order to teach them to future staff and students at RedCliff Ascent. I simply have to create the opportunity for someone to be their own teacher.
Rabbitstick primitive blk powder skillsRabbitstick primitive skill presentation

A New Life of Love and Hope – From Wilderness to College Bound

Wilderness to College letter
We received this letter from one of our English alumni parents on June 21st.  We’re so proud to hear of the turnaround that S. has made in his life and can’t wait to hear more as he continues to grow!  Congrats on one year and many more from your RedCliff Wilderness family!

Capital-Today we celebrate ONE YEAR of hope for our son and for all of us as a family.  It was exactly a year ago today that Eddie and Tyna came through the front door of our house and took S. to an adventure that has become the beginning of a new life of love and hope for him and for us as a family.

Thank you so much to each of you for the role you played in his success.  Jim and I will be eternally grateful for the kindness and professionalism of Eddie and Tyna and for the amazing emotional support Eddie provided us in daily endless phone calls on what was at the time a terrifying and scary decision (to say the least!), the amazing support by Barbara and Graham while we were preparing such a difficult transfer across the Atlantic.  Thank you Steve DeMille for the amazing support and patience that you have always shared with us the anxious parents in our weekly phone calls and for your magical power to help S. find the light, for teaching us become better parents and for making possible that our son run into our arms on graduation day, Graduation signa dream that we feared wouldn’t happen just one year ago; Steve, you’re just awesome!!!  Thank you to every single person in Redcliff that looked after S. and that dedicate their lives to make a difference in so many kids’ lives and their families, you’re just so inspirational.  Thank you to each of you for helping us become better parents without ever being judgmental, for restoring our confidence as parents, and for helping us become the best version of ourselves as loving parents and as a family.  Thank you all for getting our boy back to what he always was, but with the maturity and confidence of a happy young man.

We are right now in the US spending a few days with our young President (or should I say Prime Minister?), who is very happy with life (in spite of recent football results!) and who is planning to go to college in the US (yes, we are getting lots of airline miles!) and who has gone back to being the amazing loving caring son that he always was.  The magic in the attached pictures would have not been possible without each of you.  We will be eternally grateful to each of you, and you will always be part of this special date in our calendar.

God bless you all on our first anniversary of our new beginning!

How I Know “Wilderness Works !”

by Jillian Broeckert
RedCliff Ascent Wilderness Therapist
For a good portion of my life I felt like an outsider, never really fitting in, having very few friends I really clicked with, whom I thought understood me.

Jillian Wilderness Therapist

Jillian Broeckert and her dog in the RedCliff Ascent Wilderness. (click to enlarge)

This all changed when I found wilderness therapy and the pieces of my life started to fit together.

Piece one: I grew up in the north woods of Minnesota, so I have always had the wilderness and it has always been where I have felt most at home, most alive. Piece two: I come from a blended family, divorce, and all the struggles and joys that come with it. Piece three: I come from a long line of addicts. Piece four: after six years in my undergrad trying to find the right major for me I ended up with a degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development. And while I am sure there are more pieces, those are the ones that stick out the most to me now.

In 2005, I graduated with my bachelors, knowing I needed a job and not sure what that would look like. I had heard about RedCliff Ascent Wilderness Therapy and it definitely interested me, though I had been scared to death to actually apply, to go out on my own in a whole new environment where I knew no one. Being a fairly reserved person, this was terrifying for me. And I decided to look into it, only halfheartedly committed to following through.

Then it all happened so fast. I called up the staff director, “Can you be here Friday for training?” No time to think it through really, only time to jump in and I did. I had never felt more out of my comfort zone, and after my first week, I had never felt more at home. This has been a theme for me over my 8+ years in wilderness therapy, feeling out of my comfort zone and at home. Wilderness has pushed me to go through my own therapeutic process, to grow in ways I never thought possible. I went back to school and got my Masters. It has brought me a peace and contentment in life that I once thought I would never achieve. To this day wilderness continues to push me and I continue to step up to the challenge. This is how “I” know wilderness works!
Jillian Wilderness Therapist

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