“Underwater Basket Weaving Therapy for Autism: Don’t Laugh! It Could Happen…” by David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D & Denise Lorelli, MS

This month’s featured article from the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) is by Executive Director David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D and Denise Lorelli, MS on the abundance of so-called “therapies” available for children with autism, why some fall trap to these “therapies,” and how to assess what therapy is right, and most importantly, effective in the long run. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Underwater Basket Weaving Therapy for Autism: Don’t Laugh! It Could Happen…
by David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D and Denise Lorelli, MS

Yes, sadly it can happen. With 400+ purported treatments for autism, there is no shortage of such whose name begins with an activity, substance, or favorite pastime and ends in the word “therapy.” A cursory internet search would reveal such “therapies” as music therapy, art therapy, play therapy, sand therapy, dolphin therapy, horseback riding therapy, bleach therapy, vitamin therapy, chelation therapy, and helminth worm therapy joining the list of the more established habilitative therapies such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language therapy (this is by no means an exhaustive list of the array of “therapies” that are marketed to consumers). Touted therapies can involve all sorts of things. I recall sitting on a panel at Nova University in the late ‘90s with another provider boasting the benefits of llamas and lizards as well.

What concerns us are the assumptions – made by consumers and providers alike – that promoted “therapies” have legitimate therapeutic value, when, in fact, there is often little-to-no scientific evidence to support them. Some might rightfully say that many of these touted methods are “quackery” without such evidence. The focus on such unproven methods or “therapies” may result in financial hardship and caregiver exhaustion, further exacerbating the stress levels of participating families. What is most alarming is that these “therapies” may be detrimental because they may separate individuals with autism from interventions that have a demonstrated efficacy, thus delaying the time of introduction of effective therapy.

This concern is echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In their guidelines focusing on the management of autism spectrum disorders, they state: “Unfortunately, families are often exposed to unsubstantiated, pseudoscientific theories and related clinical practices that are, at best, ineffective and, at worst, compete with validated treatments or lead to physical, emotional, or financial harm. Time, effort, and financial re-sources expended on ineffective therapies can create an additional burden on families” (p. 1174).

If a child diagnosed with cancer were prescribed chemotherapy, there is a reasonable expectation that chemotherapy would treat or ameliorate the child’s cancer. Parents of individuals with autism have that hope as well when their children are provided with various therapies. While this hope is understandable, it is often placed in a “therapy” for which there is an absence of any legitimate therapeutic value. We hope the following will help both providers and consumers become more careful in how they discuss, present, and participate in various “therapies.”


1. Anything ending in the word “therapy” must have therapeutic value. The word “therapy” is a powerful word and clearly overused; therefore, it would be helpful to begin with a definition. Let’s take a moment and think about this definition:

Therapy: noun \ˈther-ə-pē\ “a remedy, treatment, cure, healing, method of healing, or remedial treatment.”

When a “therapy” provider or proponent uses the word “therapy,” he/she is really saying: “Come to me…I will improve/treat/cure your child’s autism.” The onus is on the provider/proponent to be able to document that the “therapy” has therapeutic value, in that it treats autism in observable and measurable ways or builds valuable skills that replace core deficits.

2. Providers of said “therapy” are actually therapists. It is not unreasonable for a parent or consumer to assume that the providers of particular “therapies” are bona fide therapists. It is also reasonable for a parent to believe that someone referring to him/herself as a therapist will indeed help the child. However, simply put, if an experience is not a therapy, then the provider is not a therapist. He or she may be benevolent and caring, but not a therapist.

Some disciplines are well established and have codified certification or licensed requirements, ethical codes, and practice guidelines (e.g., psychology, speech-language pathology, occupational therapy). Consumers would know this, as “therapy” providers will hold licenses or certifications. Notwithstanding, consumers can look to see if the provider has the credentials to carry out a particular therapy, and these credentials can be independently verified (please see http://www.bacb.com/index.php?page=100155 as an example). A chief distinction is that licenses are mandatory and certifications are voluntary. In the case of licensure, state governments legislate and regulate the practice of that discipline. It cannot be over-stated that just because a discipline has certified or licensed providers it does not necessarily mean that those providers offer a therapy that works for individuals with autism. This segues into the third assumption.

3. All “therapies,” by definition, follow an established protocol grounded in research and collectively defined best practices. Let’s revisit our chemotherapy example. Chemotherapy protocols have a basis in published research in medical journals and are similarly applied across oncologists. In other words, two different oncologists are likely to follow similar protocols and precise treatments with a patient that presents with similar symptoms and blood work findings. This is not the case with many autism treatments. Most therapies lack scientific support altogether and are often carried out in widely disparate ways across providers often lacking “treatment integrity.”

4. If “XYZ therapy” is beneficial for a particular condition, it would benefit individuals with autism as well. Sadly, this kind of overgeneralization has been observed and parents of children with autism are often misled. Suppose underwater basket weaving was demonstrated through published research to improve lung capacity. Touting the benefits of this as a treatment for autism would clearly be a stretch. Therapeutic value in autism must focus on ameliorating core symptoms and deficits associated with autism such as social challenges, improving communication skills, and reducing or eliminating the behavioral challenges associated with autism.

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“Increasing Articulation in Children with Autism” by Tracie Lindblad

Following our last feature on guided playdates, we’ve partnered with the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) again this week to bring you an article by Tracie Lindblad, Reg. CASLPO (SLP), MS, MEd, BCBA, on increasing speech intelligibility in children with autism. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

How do you increase speech intelligibility (articulation skills) or the variability in the sounds produced by children with autism spectrum disorders?
Answered by Tracie L. Lindblad, Reg. CASLPO (SLP), MS, MEd, BCBA

Approximately 30–50% of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remain minimally verbal throughout their lives, with little or no functional speech (National Institutes of Health & National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 2010; Johnson, 2004; Mirenda, 2003). These individuals may rely on more effortful modes of communication such as reaching for desired items, taking another’s hand to gain access, or obtaining the item independent of communication. Attempts to communicate may also take the form of challenging behaviours such as aggression, self-injury, and tantrums.

Parents face a difficult task in choosing a treatment for minimally verbal children with ASD because a wide range of techniques are routinely used by speech-language pathologists and behaviour analysts with varying degrees of success and evidence.

The following table highlights some of the most-commonly implemented interventions to target speech skills and the current evidence base for each.

Increasing Articulation Table 1Increasing Articulation Table 2

Within the fields of behaviour analysis and speech pathology, evidence-based practice (EBP) should shape and guide our treatment decisions. EBP is the integration of:

  • external scientific evidence,
  • clinical expertise/expert opinion, and
  • client/patient/caregiver perspectives.

Principles of EBP can help any professional to provide high-quality services which reflect the interests, values, needs, and choices of the individuals, and promote the best outcomes possible with the current evidence to date. Continue reading

Pick of the Week: Sensible Pencil – A Handwriting Program

Created by Linda C. Becht, Sensible Pencil is a step-by-step handwriting program developed for students with special needs. With 200 sequential worksheets, new writers will learn how to write quickly and efficiently. This week, you can save 15%* on Sensible Pencil with promo code PENCIL15 at check-out!

Sensible Pencil is presented in notebook format and contains 200 reproducible worksheets, a progress chart, and a manual. With this handwriting program, the student can start with simple horizontal and vertical lines presented in fun ways, and then go on to other basic lines needed for handwriting skills.

Don’t forget to use promo code PENCIL15 when you check out online to take 15% off* your order of Sensible Pencil: A Handwriting Program!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EST on November 10th, 2015. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at checkout!

Pick of the Week: Occupational Octaves Piano Curriculum for Students with Special Needs

Occupational Octaves Piano is the first of its kind curriculum written in the special-needs-user-friendly language of music. Named Lee Stockner’s Music Box Method, this unique piano program has been enriching the lives of students with Autism through music since 2009. This week only, we’re offering 15%* off any or all 3 of the Occupational Octaves Piano Books within the curriculum. Just use our promo code OCTAVES at check-out!

The original language of music can be a confusing symbolic language that should perfectly instruct a student as to which notes, fingers and beats to play. Occupational Octaves Piano students read the same instructions, not through the traditional presentation of confusing musical symbols, but through colored letters in rhythmically designed boxes. This means that students on the autism spectrum, including those with severe disabilities, can play the same songs as a traditional player with the same notes, fingers and beats as a mainstream student would. Each curriculum music book comes with a set of rings that are placed on the player’s fingers to help them match their hands to the notes they’re seeing.

Hundreds of students with autism have successfully learned to play the piano using this method. Give your students the gift of music with the Occupational Octaves Piano curriculum series. This program is a revolutionary approach that develops cognitive, physical and emotional gains to a wide variety of soon-to-be musicians!

Don’t forget to take 15% off* your order of any or all 3 of the Occupational Octaves Piano Books this week only by using promo code OCTAVES at check-out!

*Offer is valid until 11:59pm EST on August 18th, 2015. Not compatible with any other offers. Be sure there are no spaces or dashes in your code at checkout!

Pick of the Week: NEW! Function Wheels – A Behavioral Identification and Intervention System

We’re absolutely thrilled to introduce Function Wheels, an easy-to-use system that enables users to identify the function of behavior and immediately intervene. Created and piloted by Keith Amerson, MSEd, Different Roads to Learning is a proud partner in bringing you the first all-inclusive, systematic approach for identifying the functions of problem behaviors and implementing research-based interventions to manage them.

Get your kit today at the introductory price of $149.95 through July 31st! No promo code necessary.

Click to enlarge.

Be sure to check out this nifty video below for a more in-depth look at the Function Wheels Kit!

Tip of the Week: Two Essential Considerations When Toilet Training Boys

Last year, I had the opportunity to interview Gary Weitzen, the Executive Director of POAC Autism Services and the Autism Shield Program. (You can see the blog post about that interview here.) In the months since our interview, many of his comments have stuck with me, but one in particular has impacted my daily work with students. He said, “A lot more boys have autism than females but the vast majority of educators in special ed, and in particular with autism, are females.” He went on to provide examples of how this fact influences some skill development, specifically with toilet training.

Child on Toilet 2 BlogThis leads to several considerations to take into account when toilet training boys. I agree with Weitzen that some of these issues arise from the simple fact that women are predominantly toilet training boys. However, it’s also possible that such issues arise from the fact that many boys are trained in early intervention or preschool years without consideration of the implications of those training techniques several years down the line, and without further intervention or training later in life. Either way, it’s important to recognize that training of life skills should be completed in such a way as to develop effective skills that are similar to those of the child’s same-age peers. To that end, here are two considerations:

Consider hygiene. Something I had never thought about prior to my conversation with Weitzen is that after boys use the bathroom, then zip up their pants, it’s easy for a little urine to drip onto their pants. Especially once children reach upper elementary and middle school grades, a spot of urine can be socially isolating or an invitation for bullying. Weitzen acknowledges that it can be difficult to teach boys to gently shake their penis before zipping up, especially because teachers don’t want to inappropriately touch the students. However, for the long term, it’s essential that teachers find a way to teach this simple action.

Consider the topography of the behavior. When we think about topography, we basically mean, “What does the behavior look like.” When initially toilet training, teachers will typically have the student pull his/her pants down to the floor. Weitzen shared a personal experience from several years ago, when he was a chaperone on a field trip with his son who is autistic. At one point, the teachers asked him to take the boys to the bathroom, so Weitzen went in with eight 14-year-old boys with autism. He said, “They took their pants and pushed them right down to their knees at the urinal at Medieval Times. So we had seven hairy tushies in the room. Out in public! And what happens is other dads and other boys came in there and everyone’s laughing and commenting and pointing.” This is the type of situation that teachers and parents do not want students to experience. When toilet training, it’s essential to recognize that the topography of the behavior in the male restroom is to unzip the pants, and then pull the fabric aside in order to urinate in the urinal. While it may be easier to teach students to pull their pants down in the initial phases of toilet training, it’s important to continue shaping behavior until it has the appropriate topography.

If our students continue to pull their pants down completely, they become targets for bullying, or worse. Weitzen says that on multiple occasions, he’s had parents report to him that their child used the bathroom at the urinal, and when they pulled their pants to the floor, another student took a picture of them. “Four different moms told me that, and if four moms told me that, I can’t imagine how often that’s happening,” Weitzen said. “And even if they’re not sharing the photo, well now you’re the weird kid who sticks his butt out. And you’re isolated and you’re picked upon, so we have to be real. We have to realize our guys live in the real world and teach them the skills that they need.”


Sam is an ABA provider for students ages 3-12 in NYC. Working in education for ten years with students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other developmental delays, Sam has developed strategies for achieving a multitude of academic, behavior, and social goals. Sam is currently pursuing her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis at Endicott College.

Autism Awareness Month Interview Series: Creating Positive Change in ASD Treatment Through Science, Support and Education with David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D

We couldn’t be more thrilled to wrap up our Autism Awareness Month Interview Series with David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA. Dr. David Celiberti is the Executive Director of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in the U.S. and Canada. Here, Dr. Celiberti shares his wealth of knowledge and experience in creating positive change in autism treatments through scientific research and high-quality education and support.

Don’t forget to check out the other interviews from our Autism Awareness Month Interview Series here!

Creating Positive Change in ASD Treatment
Through Science, Support, and Education
with David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D

SAM BLANCO: I consider the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) to be an invaluable resource for both parents and practitioners. You serve as the Executive Director. Before we discuss ASAT, can you tell us a bit about your background?

DAVID CELIBERTI: First and foremost, thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview, particularly as you are asking about topics that are near and dear to my heart. I have been fortunate to have a career in the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) where the journey has been just as reinforcing as the destination. I continually urge young people to work hard at finding a career path consistent with their passions. Among my many reinforcers in the field of ASD treatment are interactions with parents and siblings who did not choose a life that included ASD, but still love unconditionally, roll up their sleeves and embrace powerful roles as agents of change. Additionally reinforcing has been my collaboration with myriad professionals, particularly those who are grounded in, and informed by, science. Perhaps most inspiring, though, are the individuals with ASD themselves who work so hard to acquire new skills, learn effective strategies for negotiating their experiences, and remind us daily that science-based treatments, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA), truly make a difference.

I currently serve as the halftime Executive Director of ASAT. I view this role not as a job but as a “lifestyle”, and I am so proud of what ASAT accomplishes every year, even with a tiny operating budget. We have an incredible board of directors from diverse professional backgrounds such as special education, behavior analysis, psychology, social work, sociology, law, medicine, speech-language pathology, computer science, family advocacy and business. Many of our board members have family members with ASD. Their commitment to helping other families and professionals find a clearer path to effective intervention is astounding to me. We also have scores of volunteer coordinators, externs, and an active Media Watch team who do much of the “heavy lifting”, helping ASAT remain productive, current, and responsive to the needs of the autism community.

SB: For those out there who aren’t familiar with ASAT, can you talk a little bit more about the organization’s mission and why it continues to be such an essential resource?

DC: With respect to our mission, we improve the quality of life for individuals with ASD and their families by promoting the use of safe, effective treatments, which are grounded in science, for people with ASD. As you know, there are over 400 treatments for autism, with the vast majority lacking any semblance of scientific support. We achieve our mission by sharing accurate, scientifically-sound information with professionals, parents and journalists; and by countering inaccurate or unsubstantiated information regarding autism and its treatment as it comes up. Unfortunately, there is so much out there which distracts consumers from making the best possible choices. Our overarching goal is to help parents and providers become savvy consumers of information who can truly discriminate science from pseudoscience. This means being armed with the knowledge to ask practitioners and marketers of ASD interventions critically important questions related to the state of their science, consult with knowledgeable and impartial professionals about potential treatments, and establish methods for assessing the benefits of treatments when they are adopted by the family and their intervention team. It is absolutely heartbreaking that autism treatment has become the type of business in which parents of children with autism must work so hard just to sort through so many options and mixed messages just in order to help their sons and daughters.

For more information, your readers can visit ASAT’s comprehensive website at www.asatonline.org. On the website, they will find extensive information about the scientific support (or lack thereof) behind the full array of treatments proposed for autism; resources and guidelines on how to make informed choices and weigh evidence in selecting treatment options, and information for various groups such as parents of newly diagnosed children, parents of older individuals, teachers, medical providers, and members of the media community. We encourage people to revisit ASAT’s website often, as information about autism treatments is frequently updated to reflect the latest research, and new content is routinely added.

ASAT also publishes a free quarterly newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment. Sign-up information is available at http://asatonline.org/signup. The quarterly e-newsletter features:

  • Invited articles by leading advocates of science-based treatment;
  • A Clinical Corner which responds to frequently asked questions about autism treatment;
  • A Consumer Corner which recommends resources that can guide and inform treatment decisions;
  • A Focus on Science column which is designed to empower families to make educated treatment decisions by highlighting those elements that constitute science-based interventions as well as warning signs of unsubstantiated treatment;
  • Detailed summaries of specific treatments for autism;
  • Book reviews;
  • Highlights of our Media Watch efforts and discussion of accurate, and inaccurate, portrayals of autism and its treatment by the media;
  • Reviews of published research to help consumers and professionals understand and gain access to the science;
  • Critiques of policy statements related to autism treatment; and
  • Interviews with those who advance science-based treatment and confront pseudoscience.

Finally, your readers can also follow us on Facebook and on Twitter at @asatonline.

SB: You have dedicated a lot of your time to providing services for underserved populations, from direct services to organizing fundraisers that support organizations that serve economically disadvantaged children. Why is this an important area of work for you?

DC: When I was in graduate school in the late 1980s and early 1990s at Rutgers University under the mentorship of Dr. Sandra Harris, I was struck that only a tiny percentage of students with ASD were receiving the lion’s share of the available expertise and resources. This disparity was troubling to me as I recognized that there were scores of other children with ASD who were receiving “generic” special education services which did not yet incorporate state-of-the-art behavior analytic intervention. My hope was to one day dedicate a portion of my time to supporting students with ASD in inner city communities. As my career unfolded, I had the opportunity to work at the Rutgers Autism Program, where part of my duties focused on outreach. I started working in rural Maine in 1997, helping public schools develop and implement educational programs to students with ASD, and have now returned over 110 times! It is not that urban setting that I had envisioned as an idyllic graduate student; however, I quickly realized how rewarding it was to provide services in geographic areas that did not have the existing resources, and to assist public schools in providing high quality educational experiences.

Hoboken, New Jersey, where I live, is home to a significant number of economically disadvantaged students. I began to seek collaborative relationships between ASAT and other local organizations which focused on poverty. The common thread was the importance of providing children with meaningful, socially valid and effective opportunities to realize their fullest potential despite the myriad obstacles that they face. That resonated well with me as someone whose career focuses on the treatment of ASD. To date, my fundraising efforts have benefited four Hoboken-based organizations combating the barriers associated with poverty.

SB: I would like to go back to your reference about public school programs. In your view, what are some of the key elements of a high quality education for students with autism?

DC: This is such an important question! In a nutshell, a high-quality education would include the following elements:

  • Be truly individualized – An educational plan should truly fit the child like a glove fits a hand. Services should not be about what a provider likes to do, but rather what the student needs, as determined through ongoing, valid assessment.
  • Be comprehensive – A high quality education targets the full array of skills that will promote success at home, school and community and uses a wide range of techniques based on science that are well fitted to the skills being targeted.
  • Keep the future in mind when selecting goals – The skills needed to be successful and marketable in the next setting (be that a particular job or even Mr. Walker’s 4th grade classroom) must be identified and addressed.
  • Use well conceptualized behavior management strategies – When addressing challenging behavior, these strategies should take into account the underlying function of the behavior, include carefully selected antecedent and consequence based supports, and build skills to help students better meet their needs in a way which promotes their day-to-day independence and opportunities.
  • Consider and offer inclusion opportunities carefully – Ensure that it occurs with the appropriate supports and is delivered by adequately trained staff. Social skill development does not occur through pure exposure alone; rather, skill acquisition occurs when inclusion is approached as a systematic, individualized process, with proper supports, monitoring of data, and a goal of challenging the individual with ASD while not overwhelming them, or inadvertently creating isolation.
  • Carefully implement instruction, including modifications and accommodations – Promote early success and carryover, identify and use powerful motivators, and consider how to motivate students to work hard, to learn new skills, and to minimize frustration.
  • Allocate resources thoughtfully – Intervention and teaching-team members need solid training in order to implement teaching procedures and services. Regularly scheduled team meeting promote coordination, particularly when multiple disciplines are involved.
  • Engage parents – Not only is it important to continually seek input from parents about treatment priorities and goal selection, parents benefit from the training, collaboration, and information that will enable them to embrace their role as a co-pilot in their child’s intervention. This support should include siblings, grandparents, and other significant individuals for whom parents consent to their involvement. Engagement should occur throughout the educational journey and be adjusted to face the unique needs and challenges at each point in time.
  • Take data collection seriously – Ongoing data collection enables one to objectively assess progress, make timely adjustments, and remain accountable to those we serve. No provider should get a “pass” on data collection.
  • Start early and get it right from the start! – We know that early intervention can make an incredible difference. Don’t squander precious time on interventions that are not time-tested and research based.

SB: You’ve been instrumental in implementing change in many aspects of our field of ABA and ASD treatment in general. Do you have your thoughts on two or three areas that you think need to be addressed differently? How can we improve our work there?

DC: There is certainly room for improvement. Promoting science and science-based interventions such as ABA is not an area in which we have been very successful. Media representations tend to favor less science-based treatments, perhaps because their promoters use more sensationalized language when describing both their methods and their outcomes. Behavior analysts must take a closer look at how they market their work so that their outcomes can be more understandable and appreciated by various stakeholders (e.g., media, funding sources, consumers). We must also be more proactive in helping the media approach autism treatment in a more accurate manner.

Autism is clearly a spectrum disorder. In recent years, we have seen many higher functioning persons with ASD who have been very vocal; generously sharing their views about the appropriateness of treatment. Although their views and perspectives are important, I worry that the public, policy makers, and other important stakeholders may take these views as applicable to the entire spectrum. I believe this has the potential to do parents a tremendous disservice when they try to acquire the resources, tools, and experiences which will enable their son or daughter (who may not be on the upper end of the spectrum) to realize his or her fullest potential. On the other hand, one important take-away message is the importance of cultivating and celebrating the strengths of individuals with ASD rather than approach our work from a pure deficit model.

Another significant concern is that the hundreds of thousands of children with ASD who were diagnosed in the last two decades are growing up and becoming hundreds of thousands of young adults with ASD; as a society, we are failing them. When children with ASD turn twenty-one, funding for services drastically changes. As a result, there are very few quality programs for adults. We are facing a crisis in the field, with a scarcity of services for adults with ASD and the absence of a clear strategy for closing the gap between the ever-increasing need, and an unprepared supply of resources. Autism awareness must include important conversations about how we can help adults with ASD live and work independently, develop meaningful relationships, reduce challenging behaviors that may limit opportunities, access faith communities, and enjoy the array of recreational pursuits which are available within their communities. Those are important conversations to have and these conversations should translate into actionable items at every level of service delivery.

SB: With Autism Awareness month drawing to a close, what would you like the general public to know about autism treatment?

DC: Even though ASD is no longer the rare disorder it once was, each person with ASD is unique. Efforts to help them realize their fullest potential should be individualized to meet the specific needs of each individual with ASD across settings such as home, school, community and the workplace; and informed by input from the individual, as well as his or her family.

Do not believe everything you hear. There are dozens of purported “miracle cures” and “breakthroughs” for ASD which receive widespread media attention, even if they have not been proven effective. Sadly, effective treatments rarely gain media attention.

On a related vein, do not believe everything you read. Not all information on the internet is reliable and accurate, and celebrities are neither trained nor equipped to define or guide ASD treatment even though many appear comfortable in that role. On the other hand, there is a large body of research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals which should guide autism treatment. Visit our website to learn more at www.asatonline.org.

Lastly, there is hope and tremendous opportunity. With the right treatment, individuals with autism can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Research indicates that interventions such as ABA can effectively help children and adults with ASD realize their fullest potential. As stated earlier, we know that early and intensive behavioral intervention can make a huge difference, both with respect to human potential and significant cost savings across the lifespan.

SB: How can the general public make a positive difference?

DC: It cannot be overstated that it takes a village to help individuals with ASD learn to enjoy and benefit from all that their communities have to offer. Every member of the public can make a difference in supporting individuals with ASD and their families. There are so many positive ways the public can help. Although I will share several examples here, this list is by no means exhaustive:

  1. If you have a family member or a neighbor who has a child with ASD, ask specifically how you may be helpful (e.g., assist with siblings, offer play dates, help with transportation to therapies, or provide an empathic ear).
  2. If you see a family struggle in the community, do not stare, comment, or judge. In some cases, it may be appropriate to go over and assist (e.g., “I see you are helping your little guy, may I help you put your bags in the car?”). Family members may take you up on your kind offer or may just decline.
  3. If your children are interested, inquire if there are opportunities for them to help classmates with ASD at their school (e.g., becoming a lunch buddy, peer tutor). This is particularly beneficial in the later grades when opportunities for students with ASD to interact meaningfully with their typically-developing peers is lessened.
  4. At school board meetings encourage board members to learn about best practices in special education which are scientifically validated. Inquire if special education resources are being spent on interventions that lack scientific support or are not being spent on those that do possess such support (e.g., ABA). In fact, a research basis should inform most decisions.
  5. Some faith communities are very welcoming to families of individuals with ASD, whereas others are not. Discuss this within your place of worship. Identify steps that can be taken to help individuals with ASD participate in their religious communities in a positive and meaningful manner. This applies to both religious ceremonies, as well as day to day participation.
  6. Encourage organizations to be more accepting of persons with ASD and to take appropriate steps to learn how to create meaningful inclusion opportunities (e.g., seeking out information, soliciting training and education, learning from others who are doing this with success).
  7. If you are involved with youth sports or other extracurricular activities, offer to coach and/or mentor a player with ASD.
  8. Encourage your town or city to provide and/or create recreational opportunities that include individuals with ASD as there is often a tendency to focus only on separate experiences.
  9. Support ASD organizations that put science first. Research how your donations are used.


DCelibertiDr. David Celiberti is the Executive Director of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). He previously served as the President of the Board of Directors of ASAT from 2006 through 2012. In response to the increasing number of parents attending professional conferences to learn about applied behavior analysis, he also founded the Parent-Professional Partnership SIG for the Association for Behavior Analysis International in 2000 and served as its Co-President until 2014. He had also served as President of the Autism Special Interest Group (SIG) from 1998 to 2006. He currently sits on a number of Advisory Boards in the area of autism, as well as in early childhood education. He has organized fundraising initiatives to support afterschool programming for economically disadvantaged children in Northern New Jersey. Dr. Celiberti is in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in the U.S. and Canada. He received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. He has taught courses related to ABA at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing their BCBA and BCaBA, and in prior positions had conducted research in the areas of applied behavior analysis, family intervention, and autism.

Special Tours and Programs with New York City Museums for Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities

New York City’s Museum of Natural History and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) are introducing special tours and experiences for children with Autism.

The Museum of Natural History’s ‘Discovery Squad’ meets on select Saturdays for children ages 5- 14, accompanied by an adult, before the museum is open to the general public. Specially trained museum guides will lead a 40 minute tour through the North American Hall of Mammals (ages 5-8) or on an adventure through the Koch Dinosaur Wing.

For more information on the Museum of Natural History’s Discovery Squad, please visit their website here.

Each month the Museum of Modern Art’s program ‘Create Ability’ follows a different theme through the galleries to explore the art work and workshops to create in the classroom. These workshops are intended for individuals with developmental or learning disabilities ages 5-18+ and are free with pre-registration!

For more information on MOMA’s Create Ability programs, visit their website here.


Autism Awareness Month Interview Series: Getting the Services Your Child with Autism is Legally Entitled To with Gary S. Mayerson, JD

This week, our exclusive interview series with BCBA Sam Blanco features the renowned Gary Mayerson, JD, founder of Mayerson & Associates, the very first civil rights law firm in the nation dedicated to representing individuals with autism and related developmental disorders. In this interview, he reveals valuable advice for parents and caregivers on how to find and obtain the services their children are entitled to.

Getting the Services Your Child with Autism is Legally Entitled To
with Gary S. Mayerson, JD

SAM BLANCO: Can you address any common misconceptions related to IDEA or LRE?

GARY MAYERSON: The federal IDEA statute is governed primarily by what is “appropriate” for the student, as opposed to what is “best” or “optimal.” Unfortunately, the IDEA statute does not define the word “appropriate” and that confusion accounts for many of the conflicts that will arise between parents and school districts, who are obligated to provide a FAPE (a “free and appropriate public education”). On the other hand, LRE, otherwise known as “least restrictive environment,” is one of the few “maximizing” provisions in the IDEA statute. LRE is Congress’ mandate that students with disabilities be educated with their non-disabled peers to the “maximum extent appropriate,” even if doing so requires supplemental aids and services. The LRE mandate requires school districts to consider what is known as “the full continuum” and not rely upon “one size fits all” special education classrooms.

SB: What is the most important piece of advice you can give to parents as they begin the process of finding an appropriate school placement for their child?

GM: The best advice I could give parents who are just getting started is to seek out the best possible baseline of assessments and evaluations to tease out the strengths and challenges, identify and address any interfering behaviors, and hopefully get a good sense as to how their child learns, i.e., what kinds of programs are likely to be effective or not. Without the benefit of solid evaluations, the discussion at the IEP meeting will likely be relegated to “this is what the parents want.” When parents are able to provide quality evaluations, the discussion is elevated to “this is what professionals are recommending.” School districts are far more likely to take action based on the recommendation(s) of experts. Early intervention is always best. Accordingly, once evaluations and assessments are available to guide intervention, services should start ASAP. Parents of children diagnosed on the autism spectrum who are just getting started will find very useful information at www.autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks offers an online “100 Days Kit” to help parents wade through the initial time frame following a diagnosis.

SB: Many parents struggle with the costs associated with autism. What advice do you have for them to alleviate some of the expenses?

GM: This is a thorny topic because even families with significant financial resources will struggle to pay for the daunting cost of effective programming where autism is the core disability. Today, most states (including New York) have enacted insurance reform, which means that many intervention services will be covered by private insurance, typically limited to an annual cap of approximately $40,000 or so. Parents should also consider obtaining home and community based services by filing for a “Medicaid waiver.” In addition to accessing insurance benefits and applying for a Medicaid waiver, families should register with early intervention (“birth to three”) and later, with their Committee on Preschool Education (3-5) and later, with their Committee on Special Education (5-21) to secure a public program. If, however, the public program is not appropriate or adequate, with timely advance notice, parents can file for a hearing to seek to obtain reimbursement or other funding for services and programming that is appropriate. Even short of a lawsuit, if parents are unhappy with the school district’s evaluation, they can request an “independent (private) evaluation” at the expense of the school district.

SB: Do you have recommendations for how parents keep track of records for legal purposes?

GM: Good record keeping is absolutely essential for parents. A great low tech, low cost method every parent should employ– keeping a $.99 notebook “log” of all your conversations with evaluators, school district personnel and providers. Everything important needs to be confirmed and documented in writing. This, however, does not mean sending a letter by certified mail. Faxes are just fine (but be sure to keep the fax transmittal confirmation), as are emails. Make sure to save every notice, letter and communication. For the IEP meeting, parents should either take good notes or, in situations where distrust has arisen, consider tape recording the meeting. Parents who observe schools that are being recommended by the school district also should record their observations, both good and bad.

SB: What resources do you recommend for parents to educate themselves about their legal rights?

GM: While there often is no substitute for seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney or other advocate, there actually are a number of good resources for parents to turn to in order to become better informed as to their child’s rights and entitlements. Parents, for example, will find useful information at www.wrightslaw.com and at www.mayerslaw.com. Our law firm invites parents to sign up for the firm’s quarterly informational newsletter. In addition, parents should carefully review the “parental rights” booklet that all school districts are required to provide in the context of the IEP process. Parents can also contact their local SEPTA or PTA. Finally, each state’s department of education will post, online, valuable information that parents can access free of charge, 24/7.

SB: Do you discuss estate planning for parents of children with special needs? When do you advise parents to begin making those plans?

GM: Parents of special needs children live with constant worry, knowing that they will not be able to live and protect their child forever. All parents–even those without any financial resources–should have a will that addresses estate planning issues, and the question of who will take over the parental role when the parent is no longer around to do so. Parents with financial resources, or who expect to come into money in the future, need to engage counsel to set up a “special needs trust” for their child—so as to allow the child to receive Medicaid and Social Security benefits without endangering the estate when such benefits are accessed. It is never too early to discuss estate planning issues, and too many parents overlook estate planning issues until it is too late. Parents also should timely commence guardianship proceedings well before the child reaches the age of majority (18 in most jurisdictions). Otherwise, a child who reaches the age of majority without a guardianship order may leave the jurisdiction and put themselves in danger with parents being left with little, if any, legal recourse. This is not to say, however, that obtaining guardianship is a given. Obtaining guardianship requires a showing, deemed acceptable to the court, that the child is incapable of making their own decisions.

SB: Can you describe legal considerations across the lifespan? For instance, what should the preschooler’s parents be considering as opposed to the teenager’s parent?

GM: The perspective and legal considerations when a child is a preschooler are different than when a child reaches his or her teens. While learning can and will continue into adulthood, most scientists and educators are in agreement that the same effort will produce greater learning, with a greater “rate of acquisition,” when the same child is younger. For this reason, judges and hearing officers are most comfortable “investing” significant public resources in the younger child. Because of the value of “early intervention,” parents need to obtain a diagnosis and classification as soon as possible. This means obtaining quality assessments that come with specific recommendations. Parents of children at the preschool age should thus timely receive the services and service levels that are being recommended by professionals. When the child enters his or her teens, that child still may require intensive services. However, as mandated by federal and state law, when a child is about to turn 16 (15 in New York), the IEP is supposed to shift into high gear with “transition” assessments, vocational training, and post-secondary outcomes. At all stages, parents should make sure that educators and service providers are promoting “generalization,” and that increased independence and self –sufficiency is the constant beacon on the horizon.


Gary Mayerson is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. In early 2000, Gary founded Mayerson & Associates as the very first civil rights law firm in the nation dedicated to representing individuals with autism and related developmental disorders.

Gary speaks regularly at national conferences and major universities and has testified before Congress on the subject of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (“IDEIA”). At the invitation of the United Nations, Gary spoke on the subject of facilitating inclusive education. Gary is well published in the field and is the author of How To Compromise With Your School District Without Compromising Your Child (DRL Books 2005), the “Legal Considerations” chapter appearing in the Second Edition of Dr. Donna Geffner’s book, Auditory Processing Disorders (2013), and the “Autism in the Courtroom” chapter appearing in the Fourth Edition of Dr. Fred R. Volkmar’s seminal treatise, Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (2014).

Gary has been interviewed by the Today Show (NBC), Dan Rather (HDNet), Katie Couric, CNN, HLN, ABC, NPR, New York Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly Researcher and the New York Times, among other media. In 2014, after being peer-nominated and vetted across 12 factors by an attorney led research team, Gary was named by Super Lawyers Magazine as one of the top attorneys in the New York metropolitan area.

In addition to the U.S. Supreme Court, Gary is admitted to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gary is responsible for more than sixty reported federal court decisions, including Deal v. Hamilton County, the very first autism case to ever reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Gary’s work also was instrumental in T.K. v. NYCDOE (bullying recognized as a “FAPE” deprivation), R.E. v. NYCDOE and C.F. v. NYCDOE (cases rejecting school district’s attempts to rely upon “impermissible retrospective evidence” at trial), T.M. v. Cornwall (least restrictive environment mandate as applied to ESY), L.B. v. Nebo School District (pertaining to “supported inclusion” and Congress’ “least restrictive environment” mandate), V.S. v. NYCDOE (parents have a procedural right to evaluate the school assignment) and Starego v. NJSIAA, a federal court settlement affording Anthony Starego, a 19-year-old high school placekicker with autism, an unprecedented fifth season of interscholastic competition (incredibly, that additional season had a storybook ending, with Anthony and his team going on to win the 2013 State Championship 26-15 after Anthony contributed points from two successful field goals!).

Gary has served on the national board of Autism Speaks since its inception in 2005 and founded its Federal Legal Appeals Project, a pro bono initiative at the federal level. In addition, Gary serves on the Boards of JobPath, a not-for-profit based in Manhattan that is dedicated to securing and supporting meaningful employment opportunities for adults with autism, and ALUT, Israel’s largest autism not-for-profit. Gary also serves on the Professional Advisory Board of the New England Center for Children (NECC), a residential school for students with autism located in Southborough, Massachusetts.

Gary testified before the New York City Council in support of “Avonte’s Law,” a safety enhancement measure introduced by Councilmember Rob Cornegy that, once fully implemented, will provide an additional layer of protection for students with autism who have a propensity to wander. Most recently, Gary and attorneys Maria McGinley and Jacqueline DeVore worked behind the scenes to help secure a conditional pardon from the Governor of Virginia for “Neli” Latson, a young man with autism, previously placed in solitary confinement, who is now receiving the therapeutic treatment that he needs.

Temple Grandin and Dr. Jed Baker to Speak at Upcoming Autism Conference in White Plains, NY – April, 24

10409199_10153276032427780_6229927242485176303_nTemple Grandin and Jed Baker are  speaking at this one day conference brought to you by Future Horizons.
Dr. Grandin describes the challenges she has faced and offers ideas on how others dealing with autism can meet these obstacles and improve the quality of their lives. Backed by her personal experience and evidence-based research, Temple shares her valuable insights on a wide variety of topics, and offers useful do’s and don’ts.


Dr. Baker is a behavioral consultant for several New Jersey school districts where, nearly two decades ago, he organized a group to help children with social communication problems.

This conference is intended for family members and professionals. ASHA, APA, AOTA, and NAPNAP Credits are offered and APA Continuing Education Credit = 6.

For more information, visit the Future Horizons’ Website here.