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Creating a Spooktacular Trick or Treat with AAC Boards and Sensory-Friendly Costumes

Halloween is a fun time of the year, filled with costumes, candy, and community. For children with unique needs, such as those who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices or require sensory-friendly accommodations, ensuring this festive occasion is safe and enjoyable. Here are some tips and tricks to ensure a spooktacular Halloween experience for everyone involved.

Communicating with AAC or Visual Aids

1. Preparation is Key

Before heading out for trick or treating, ensure the AAC device is fully charged and properly working. Have backup batteries on hand, just in case. If using visual aids, ensure they are printed and ready to go.

2. Customize Vocabulary

Tailor the AAC device’s vocabulary for Halloween-specific phrases and expressions. Include phrases like “Trick or Treat,” “Thank you,” and “Happy Halloween!”

3. Practice with Play

Engage in role-playing scenarios at home to help your child become comfortable saying or using their AAC device to communicate trick-or-treating phrases. Encourage them to initiate interactions with neighbors and practice beforehand.

5. Be Patient and Supportive

Allow extra time for communication, be patient, and offer encouragement when your child uses their AAC device or visual aid. Praise their efforts to build confidence.

Sensory-Friendly Costumes

1. Comfortable Fabrics

Opt for costumes made from soft, breathable fabrics to minimize discomfort. Avoid itchy materials that may irritate.

2. Seamless Seams

Choose costumes with minimal seams or rough edges to reduce sensory sensitivities. Consider inside-out costumes for a smoother feel against the skin.

3. Adjustable Fasteners

Opt for costumes with adjustable closures like Velcro or snaps rather than tight-fitting elastic or buttons. This allows for a custom fit and can help prevent discomfort.

4. Sensory-Friendly Accessories

Incorporate sensory-friendly accessories like fidget toys or chewable necklaces into the costume. These can provide comfort and serve as a soothing distraction.

5. Open-Faced Masks

Consider face paint or masks that leave the eyes and mouth area open. This allows for better airflow and reduces feelings of confinement.


For additional resources and ideas on AAC communication and sensory-friendly costumes, check out organizations like The Marcus Autism Center and PrAACtically AAC.

Remember, Halloween is a time for fun and inclusivity. By implementing these tips, you can create a memorable experience for children of all abilities. Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin Spice Recipes

In celebration of the Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els opening inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building, we are jumping on the pumpkin spice train. Cafe Manager Jenn Wilson has four pumpkin-spiced treats to make with your family and friends.

Ginger Snap Parfaits

At our house, we love the fall and particularly love mixing our favorite pumpkin pecan butter (which is often a bit too sweet) with non-dairy plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt. Layering this pumpkin yogurt mixture with plain yogurt and homemade gingersnaps is often the perfect combination of creamy, crunchy, and delicious!

¾ Cup Butter
1 Cup Sugar
1 Egg
2 Cups Flour
½ Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Cinnamon
½ Tsp Ground Ginger
1/3 Cup Molasses
2 Tsp Baking Soda


  1. Cream Butter and sugar
  2. Add Egg and mix
  3. Add dry ingredients and stir
  4. Heat molasses, add soda, and stir
  5. Add to Flour mixture and stir
  6. Roll dough into small balls and space out evenly on a buttered cookie sheet
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes
  8. Remove from pan carefully and cool on a rack or paper towels

Pumpkin Cheese Roll

We make this every year on Thanksgiving, and there’s never a single bite left.  It packs just as much pumpkin love as a pumpkin pie, but the cream cheese icing swirled into the middle with the spongy-style cake makes it absolutely irresistible.

Ingredients For the Cake
¾ Cup Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
2 Tsp Cinnamon
1 Tsp Ginger
½ Tsp Nutmeg
½ Tsp Salt
3 Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
2/3 Cup Canned Pumpkin

Ingredients For the Filling
1 Cup Confectioners’ Sugar
8 Oz Cream Cheese
1/2 Cup Softened Butter
1 Tsp Vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 15x10x1 pan. Line the pan with waxed paper and butter and flour the paper, as well.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients (flour to salt)
  3. Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl until thick and fluffy, and add in pumpkin
  4. Stir in dry ingredient mixture
  5. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly with a rubber spatula
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes or until springy and cooked
  7. Loosen the cake around the edges when you remove it from the oven. Invert it onto a clean paper towel, dusted with confectioners’ sugar. (This will help the cake not to stick)
  8. Peel off the wax paper and trim the edges about ¼”
  9. Roll up the cake from the short side and cool with the seam side down. This helps so that when you fill it, it holds its shape
  10. Whip up the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and sugar in an electric mixer
  11. Unroll the cake, spread it with the cream cheese filling, re-roll it, and refrigerate

Pumpkin Bread

Someone in our family is always making this recipe and giving the other loaf to a friend or another family member who’s had a tough week or needs a little extra holiday love. These loaves freeze beautifully, and they also make great pumpkin bread pudding, which we frequently enjoy with vanilla ice cream or, if you’re a non-dairy person, our new favorite, Oatly Vanilla.

1 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Brown Sugar
¾ Cup Vegetable Oil
¼ Cup Butter
3 Large Eggs, Slightly Beaten
16oz Canned Pumpkin
3 Cups Flour
½ Tsp Ground Cloves
1 ½ Tsp Cinnamon
1 ½ Tsp Nutmeg
¾ Tsp Ginger
1 Tsp Baking Soda
½ Tsp salt
1 ½ Tsp Baking Powder
1 Cup Raisins
1 Cup Chopped Walnuts (Optional)


  1. Beat Sugars, oil, and softened butter to blend
  2. Mix in eggs and pumpkin.
  3. In a large bowl, mix flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking soda, salt, and baking powder
  4. Stir in pumpkin mixture in two additions.
  5. Mix in nuts and/or raisins if desired.
  6. Pour batter into two greased loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes

Pumpkin Pie Hummus

Pumpkin hummus is a healthy and slightly sweet way to get a little bit of protein into your day, but be a bit sinful at the same time. It’s delicious spread on a gingersnap or a carrot chip, and its creamy consistency is a winner with everyone in our house!

16 oz Chickpeas
8 oz Organic Pumpkin Puree
2 oz Vegetable Oil
1 Tbsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
1 Tsp Vanilla Extract
1 ½ Tblsp Agave
1/3 Cup Brown Sugar
Pinch of Salt


  1. Rinse and drain the chickpeas
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the chickpeas, pumpkin puree, vegetable oil, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, agave, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt
  3. Process the ingredients until smooth and creamy in consistency. Adjust with a bit of oil or water if necessary, and season to taste


Thank you, Jenn, for your fabulous fall recipes. When you are on our campus, make sure to visit Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els for some homemade happiness (menu)!

Meet Dr. Nate Shanok, Research Coordinator at Els for Autism®, but beyond that, a Game Changer. 

By Merrick Egber

One of the most critical roles in proving that a new program or service works is individuals conducting research, hence the term ‘evidence-based practice.’

Dr. Nate Shanok has been doing integral research with us for many years, including the Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Sports programs. His newest paper, which he worked on with Dr. Erin Lozott, Dr. Christine Honsberger, Dr. Magda Mostafa, Dr. Toby Honsberger, and Dr. Marlene Sotelo, called “The Impact of ASPECTSS®-Based Design Intervention in Autism School Design” about the design of The Els Center of Excellence®, was published in the prestigious Q1 International Journal of Architectural Research. 

I spoke with Dr. Shanok about his start with us, his interest in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and his research interest. We also discussed what he has outside of work with us that still allows him to be a game-changer. Lastly, I asked him about the Fore Autism Podcast he cohosts with me. 

How did you get involved with the Els for Autism Foundation®? 

“As a Florida Atlantic University (FAU) graduate student in 2018, I conducted a thesis project examining facial emotion recognition and brain activity responses in preschool-aged children with ASD. As the project finished, I connected with Dr. Maryellen Quinn-Lunney and Dr. Jack Scott of the FAU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (FAU CARD). They referred me to the executive director at Els for Autism, Dr. Marlene Sotelo, to become involved with her team as a researcher.” 

What interested you in researching for us? What research are you working on?  

“My interest in autism research dates back to my childhood in Chicago. In middle school, I had a friend with autism who amazed me with his ability to hyperfocus on anything about sports. He was the equivalent of a walking ESPN anchor and could impressively name the entire roster of all 30 NBA teams. This individual also had an interesting way of seeing the world, which helped to fuel my interest in understanding human behavior with the factors that make each of us unique. As I continued to get more involved with the field of psychology, autism became one of my primary interests because it is increasingly common, has a very diverse behavioral phenotype, and ties in well with the field of neuropsychology. 

I initially worked on a collaboration project between Els for Autism and the Seaver Autism Center, which examined EEG (electroencephalogram) and eye-tracking biomarkers in toddlers with ASD with the impact of an early parent-child interaction intervention on these traits. Since then, I have been primarily involved with studying the stellar program offerings at Els for Autism, including the Ernie Els #GameON Autism Golf program, Ernie Els #GameON Autism Tennis program, and the RUBI (Research Units in Behavioral Intervention) parent-training program. I also worked on a manual to help other autism learning centers adapt our recreational tennis program for their clients.” 

How has working with Els for Autism supported you as a researcher?  

“I am extremely grateful to Els for Autism for the opportunities and support they have provided me since I was a graduate student at FAU. They have allowed me to work on important autism research projects that developed into publications in journals, such as Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Additionally, I have been very fortunate to work under the supervision of Dr. Marlene Sotelo and Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott. They have supported my advancement as a professional from day one and taught me many valuable lessons relating to leadership, communication, and diligence. I have also been a tennis coach and a podcast co-host with my good friend Merrick Egber.” 

You were our previous tennis coach; why did you feel tennis would be good sports-related therapy to help individuals with autism? 

“Coaching tennis at Els for Autism was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve played tennis since I was five years old and competed at a high level until I finished college. Playing tennis puts me in a complete flow state, and I lose track of time when playing. It has always been therapeutic for me. When I finished my career, I lost a lot of my passion for the game, and I felt like something was missing in my life. Watching the clients involved with the tennis program jump for joy after hitting a shot into the target or winning a point against the coach was highly rewarding for me. Learning the game of tennis was such an enjoyable experience for these kids that it helped reignite my passion for the game, and I have been playing a lot more lately. Tennis is particularly advantageous as a recreational activity for individuals with autism because it offers the opportunity to learn fine motor skills while getting beneficial cardiovascular training. Additionally, tennis can alleviate a lot of stress. Because it is only a two-player sport, it allows the students a great opportunity to go out and hit with a parent or friend outside of the structured classes.” 

How have our programs impacted the autism community? 

“The Ernie Els #GameON Autism Golf program and Ernie Els #GameON Autism Tennis program have highlighted the importance of sport and fitness training for individuals with autism. We have found that these programs improve various health and fitness measures and fine motor functioning. Additionally, there are numerous psychological benefits for participants, including improved social skills, boosted receptive and expressive communication, and increased regulatory abilities. These programs are infused with autism-learning objectives, which offer a unique opportunity for students to train some of their social skills while participating in a relaxed, recreational setting. Most importantly, the program is fun, and students feel accomplished when they can improve their game.” 

Can you tell us about the Fore Autism Podcast? Why was it valuable to co-host a podcast that is an official podcast for the Foundation?  

“The Fore Autism podcast started as two friends (Merrick Egber and I) enjoyed speaking about pop culture, autism news and research, and Els for Autism events (almost as much as we enjoyed eating lunch). We believed that our regular lunchtime conversations could make a compelling podcast show where we could interview some of our coworkers and discuss the exciting developments at the Els for Autism Foundation while also having a “World of Autism” discussion segment. I am very proud to still be a co-host of the podcast along with Merrick. We have been able to cover many inspiring stories. We have also helped spread awareness of autism and the many resources in South Florida and nationally that individuals with this condition and their families can access. The podcast has gone through many iterations over the years, but I’m thrilled that Merrick and I still get to record these shows monthly. Please check it out when you have a chance!” 

What do you hope to do with us in the future?  

“I hope to continue collaborating with the foundation for many years to come. I want to continue to study our tennis and golf programs and their impact on participants and their families. I wish to continue to spread the word about Els for Autism to the broader autism community through research manuscripts, presentations, and podcasts.” 

When you are not working with Els for Autism, what are you working on?  

“I have been the director of the Delray Center for Brain Science for the past two years, an outpatient neuropsychology center specializing in depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury. We perform brain activity mappings and brain-based therapeutics such as transcranial magnetic stimulation and neurofeedback. I also recently published a book titled “Pursuing Purpose: A Neuropsychological Approach to Maximize Life and Enjoy the Process,” which offers a modernized approach to finding purpose in life and recovering from depression or existential crisis.” 

I want to thank Dr. Nate Shanok, who has brought significant wisdom and experience in the complex science of ASD. 

To view all of our published research click Here

The Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els opens on The Els Center of Excellence® Campus 

By Merrick Egber 

 The Stoops Family Adult Services Building officially opened in late August on The Els Center of Excellence campus in Jupiter, Florida. The 21,000-square-foot building is a place for adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to access the essential support and services needed during the transition to adulthood years and throughout life as an adult. 

 The building offers a range of specialized vocational labs and rooms, including the Stanley Black & Decker vocational training lab, the Sea of Possibilities Microbusiness, a sensory lounge, a hospitality & life skills suite, a grocery vocational lab, dedicated therapy rooms, and the Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els. 

With a lot of excitement around the cafe opening, I sat down with the general manager, Jenn Wilson, to learn about her background and hopes for the cafe. 

Can you explain to us your background before working here? 

 “I grew up on a farm in New York, and food and family were always super important to me. I learned how to cook at an early age with my mother, and while I have a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies from Skidmore College, my passion is in the kitchen. Once I finished college, I attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I worked in various hotels and restaurants before joining my husband to work alongside him at the Lazy Loggerhead Café in Jupiter.” 

How did you start your association with the Els for Autism Foundation®? 

 “I became associated with Els for Autism® because Karen Roberts, the Human Resources Generalist, lives next door to one of my sisters. She had known of our restaurant, and I was hired shortly after as the café manager.” 

 Can you explain the concept of the cafe inside the Stoops Family Adult Services Building? 

 “The concept of a cafe is to provide a fresh & healthy menu with a warm, comfortable cafe environment for staff, parents, students, clients, and guests of Els for Autism. We will focus on the autistic diet by serving gluten-free, dairy-free, and low-sugar-style foods with other delicious selections. After we have our systems in place, we will work with autistic adults in several capacities to help them develop skills to support finding employment in culinary and hospitality. I aim to empower them to make thoughtful and valuable contributions within our café, at home, and in the community.” 

What would be your favorite dish to serve in the cafe? 

 “We begin menu testing and plating this week, where we will be taking pictures of all the items for the menu on the Toast Point of Sale System. My favorite things to make are usually very colorful and flavorful. While they will always have the same ingredients, I can be creative and have fun. But if I had to pick one dish as my favorite, it would be the tropical fruit salad.” 

What are your hopes and dreams for the cafe? 

 “My hopes and dreams are simple: to create delicious, flavorful food at reasonable prices with kind, thoughtful service. It is the magic formula for keeping customers and turning them into loyal patrons.” 

What would be your advice for running a restaurant, especially employing people with autism? 

 “Years ago, my husband, Brian, and I started watching Hard Knocks on HBO. Every season, it follows an NFL team during preseason (this season was the NY Jets), where it gives you a window into what it is like to be a player, an owner, and a coach inside a specific pro football organization. In any restaurant, consistency is one of the hardest things to achieve and maintain. You must wake up daily to do the work and inspire your team to do it with you, learning to exercise balance, timing, and maturity while wearing many hats. In last week’s episode of Hard Knocks, one of the coaches quotes Vince Lombardi’s famous words: ‘Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.’”  

The Big Easy™ Café by Ernie Els will be open for all who will come on-campus on Monday, September 11, and will serve a variety of breakfast, lunch, and smoothie items plus a kid’s menu from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  

Many thanks to Jenn Wilson for participating in this interview, and I hope she will serve, along with her husband, Brian, many tasty treats for years to come! 


Els for Autism® secures $1 million to support the construction of specialized recreation complex

On Tuesday, August 29 at a ceremony on the campus of The Els Center of Excellence®, leaders and supporters of the Els for Autism Foundation recognized Senator Gayle Harrell and Representative John Snyder for their efforts in successfully advocating for a $1 million appropriation to support the construction of a specialized autism recreation complex on the 26-acre campus located in Jupiter, Florida.

“The Els for Autism Foundation staff and board of directors would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Senator Harrell and Representative Snyder for their support in securing this appropriation in the state budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year,’ said Dr. Michael Alessandri, Chairman of the Board of the Els for Autism Foundation. “We are also grateful to the entire Florida Legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis for approving this item in the state budget.”

“These funds will allow us to build on our mission of transforming the lives of people with autism by providing a full range of recreation choices,” said Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Executive Director of the Els for Autism Foundation. “This complex will include a purpose-built, sensory-friendly gymnasium and an aquatics center that will include a swimming pool and splash pad.”

“South Florida is surrounded by water, and the frequency of elopement and wandering behaviors of people with autism is heightened by the multitude of water access. Unfortunately, drowning is the number one cause of death for kids with autism, and programs designed to prevent these tragic events are essential to this community. Water safety and swim lessons will be a core feature of our program offerings at the Aquatics Center,” said Dr. Sotelo.

“Since starting the Els for Autism Foundation programs and services in 2015, it has always been our vision to provide the autism community with a robust offering of sports, fitness, arts, leisure, and healthy living programs,” said Liezl Els, Founder and Managing Director of the Els for Autism Foundation. “We are very grateful to our legislators for helping us get one step closer to making this dream a reality.”

Els for Autism Foundation® Opens Purpose-Built Building Dedicated to Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Els for Autism Foundation® takes great pride in announcing yet another milestone in its ongoing mission to offer limitless possibilities to individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families with the grand opening of the Stoops Family Adult Services Building at The Els Center of Excellence® campus. The 21,000-square-foot building is a place for adults with ASD to access the essential support and services needed during the transition to adulthood years and throughout life as an adult.

One of the most pressing concerns for parents of autistic children is their transition after high school. While some individuals can and will pursue further education, others require alternative paths. Els for Autism® is now abundantly equipped to provide an alternative with the opening of the Stoops Family Adult Services Building.

The Els for Autism team’s commitment to research and evidence-based practices underscores the importance of addressing the needs of autistic adults to ensure continued learning, community engagement, and a productive and healthy lifestyle.

The purpose-built Stoops Family Adults Services Building incorporates innovative architectural features designed to cater to the unique needs of adults with ASD. The incorporation of full-length windows, acoustic block liners, LED lighting, and state-of-the-art technology fosters a supportive and sensory-friendly environment.

“As we expand our full-time Adult Day Training (ADT) program, we continue to provide comprehensive support to adults with autism, empowering them with vocational, independent living, and social skills. This prepares them to achieve their utmost potential in leading independent lives,” stated Dr. Marlene Sotelo, BCBA-D, MT-BC, Executive Director of the Els for Autism.

To equip ADT clients with the needed tools and experiences, the Stoops Family Adults Services Building offers a range of specialized vocational labs and rooms, including the Stanley Black & Decker vocational training lab, the Sea of Possibilities Microbusiness, the Big Easy™ Cafe by Ernie Els, a sensory lounge, a hospitality & life skills suite, a grocery vocational lab, and dedicated therapy rooms.

“The Stoops Family Adults Services Building is a place where adults can explore different careers, make friends, and engage with the community,” said Liezl Els, Co-Founder of Els for Autism.

Supporting Parents through Transition

You’re invited to join our “Supporting Parents through Transition” group.

Parents will meet with an Els for Autism® support group counselor and counselor intern for 75 minutes twice a month for three months to receive support and share ideas and resources. The co-facilitators will focus on strategies to assist the families in coping with their current challenges and transitions.

It is essential and highly recommended that the group participants commit to the entire series. Additionally, a mandatory initial 15-minute parent intake will be scheduled prior to beginning the group.

The group will meet on Zoom from 9 – 10:15 AM EST on the following dates:
September 14
September 28
October 11
October 25
November 8
November 25

Register by September 5; Cost $50 per parent

For more information, email Doreen Cammarata at


Supporting Parents through Transition

Step 1 of 3

The cost is $50 per parent.
Price: $50.00
How Ben Els’ Childhood Barbers are Changing the Game for Individuals with Autism Needing Haircuts 

We are aware of certain professions having autism-sensitive professionals in the fields that they work in dentists, pediatricians, psychologists, and psychiatrists, to name a few. However, you don’t always think of a barber, so we spotlight one who provides free haircuts every third Sunday for children with autism.

Meet Joe Alfano, owner and proprietor of Barber’s Edge in Jupiter, Florida. Through the power of social media, in a few short-minute videos, he spoke about the need to accommodate kids with special needs, particularly autism, by having his barbershop open for them every third Sunday so there would be no noise, loud music, or distractions. Nothing that could irritate somebody who is very sensory-sensitive, and best of all, it is free!

Why did you want to become a barber?

 “Well, my mom was doing hair in the 70s and 80s. So when I was 15, in 1985, I started cutting hair in my garage for friends and family, giving them the worst haircuts you can imagine. As time passed, I got better and just kept cutting hair.”

How has autism spectrum disorder impacted you? 

“I moved to Jupiter in 2009 and started working at a barbershop. A couple of kids with autism would come to the shop, one of them being Ben, Ernie Els’ son, and another little child who suffered pretty badly. Myself and my colleague, Juan, felt that it was unfortunate, so we took an interest in taking our time with them, and seeing the reaction on the families’ faces made us happy because they could not get it done anywhere else, so that started it all.”

Can you tell us what you do every third Sunday of the week? Why is it valuable to open a barbershop just to cut the hair of children with autism? 

“I said every third Sunday, but we have been busy during July and have done it for the past two Sundays. It is valuable to open the shop when the barbershop is not open because it is quiet. The child has the run of the place with nothing going on: no music, no loud TVs, no loud conversations, and they seem to be adapting very well, so I want to keep this going because I am seeing progress with this.”

How long have you been accommodating children with autism in the pursuit of getting a decent haircut? 

“The goal is to give a decent haircut whenever someone is in your chair. It just happens that children with autism, who suffer from sensory issues, need a lot of extra time and effort, and they dislike doing it sometimes. The parents and I have to hold them a bit so the job gets done, but I am very successful when that child sits in my chair, and they learn to trust me.

What would you say to parents who would like a sensory-friendly barber to cut the hair of children with autism? What would you say to barbers interested in cutting the hair of children with autism? 

“Well, over the last 15 years, feedback from parents has been they have had bad experiences, so they try to give me fair warning about this. I don’t want to sound overconfident, so I tell them I will do my best and make it happen just like any barber wanting to attempt it. You must have plenty of patience and be very understanding so that the child is not at fault when you are trying to build a relationship of trust with them, and it seems to get the job done.”

What are your ambitions to allow more time to service the autism community by getting a haircut?

“As of now, I am the only one at the shop. It is my shop, so I took this responsibility upon myself. It seems like it will be every other week for now, but I already have the other barbers speaking to me about wanting to join in and do it, so we will see if we can increase the number of Sundays when we cut the hair of children with autism. There were kids with autism who came to the shop during the week when the shop was fully operational, and they didn’t do well. But when they come to the shop on a Sunday, when it is so quiet and peaceful, the job gets done, and the families love how well their child is under modest circumstances.

It motivates me even more when I see that big smile on the family’s face after finishing their haircut. It is another box checked off the list of something not to worry about, and I know I have a big responsibility when a child with autism comes to my shop. I make them my responsibility, so I care for them entirely. Every barber at Barber’s Edge has love and compassion for any child with special needs and on the spectrum. We do our best to get the job done and make the families happy with the results.”

Thanks go to Joe Alfano at Barber’s Edge, who has inspired other barbers to consider acknowledging the accommodations needed for children with autism. Many thanks to him for taking the time to answer our questions and spending a lot of Sundays helping the child with autism get the cut that they want.







You’re Hired! Employment Matching Success Story

Although most adults on the spectrum have the knowledge and abilities necessary for success in the workplace, most autistic adults remain unemployed or underemployed.  The Els for Autism Employment Programs team supports adults with autism in finding and keeping jobs that fit their interests, goals, and ambitions.

Westside Cleaners is an award-winning laundromat near our headquarters. After our Employment Team visited to provide all our accommodations to support their business, Christine Benoig, decided to become an Employer Partner of ours and hire one of our clients. I decided to ask her about her hiring experience and outcomes.

What made you decide to move forward with the hiring process?

“I wanted him to feel good; I liked the on-the-job training program. It seemed like a win-win scenario.”

How did the Els For Autism staff help you onboard the right candidate for your business?

“Both David Mendel, Employment Specialist / Job Coach, and Kaylan Wrightson, Employment Specialist / Job Coach, from Els for Autism assessed the need I had and matched me with Stephen.”

What were the most rewarding experiences of having an employee on staff with autism?

“So many compliments on him; Stephen does a better job than my regular staff.”

What message would you give to other employers about hiring employees with autism?

“They need to be part of society. There is a big need for employment for these individuals.”

After the interview with Christine, I wanted to get the perspective of the client that she hired to get the total impact of hiring someone with autism.

What was the feeling you had about getting hired at Westside Cleaners?

“I was waiting so long to get a job, and it finally came true on May 30. I felt excited and happy. How did your work experience with Sea of Possibilities help you with working at Westside Cleaners? I previously had no work experience before Sea of Possibilities. The work experience I had with Sea of Possibilities allowed me to greet and talk to customers, complete tasks, and work with a team. It was very valuable.”

What do you like the most about your job?

“I am proud of the uniform that I wear while I am at work, that way, I feel like I am a part of the team. I also really like the supervisor I work for and the colleagues that I work with. Everyone is pretty nice and accommodating there.”

What did you spend your first paycheck on?

“I went to Publix to get a snack, specifically the Flipz chocolate pretzels.”

I want to thank Christine of Westside Cleaners for taking an interest in one of our clients, Stephen, and acknowledging the gifts someone with ASD can provide to the workplace. I also would like to thank Stephen for vocalizing the pride that he gets from working at Westside Cleaners.

Be sure to listen to July’s Fore Autism Podcast, co-hosted by Dr. Nate Shanok and me. We are interviewing the Associate Director of Adult Services, Dr. Robin Jones, about the Stoops Family Adult Services Building opening next month and the employment services we offer as part of our selection of discussion topics. To become an employer partner with us, contact Dr. Robin Jones at or call her at 561-320-9516

Individuals with autism from around the globe teeing off in the Second Annual Ernie Els #GameON Autism® International Golf Tournament

Individuals, as young as 5-years-old, with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) worldwide will compete in the Second Annual Ernie Els #GameON Autism® International Golf Tournament on Monday, July 17, and Tuesday, July 18.

Official Program Providers (OPPs) of the Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Golf Program participating this year are Autism Okanagan (Canada), The Golf Trust (United Kingdom), Fafali Organization (Ghana), Els for Autism® South Africa (South Africa), and Els for Autism (United States). Players are competing for a team and an individual title and a golf prize pack.

Research has found that individuals with ASD benefit from physical activity in various ways. The team at Els for Autism, along with our network of international official program providers, are changing the culture of sports and recreation. People with autism are beginning to feel included and welcomed to participate in recreational activities, go to public places, and even take lessons or group classes with their local sports professionals. In fact, recreation, particularly sports, is now believed to be an effective supplemental therapy for people with autism. Els for Autism is proud to offer training programs for professionals worldwide who want to deliver one of the Ernie Els #GameOn Autism® Sports Programs (i.e., Golf, Tennis, or Fitness) at their site.

Supported Employment Programs
Register for our July Sibshops

Led by highly qualified licensed mental health counselors, Sibshops provide young brothers and sisters who have a sibling with autism spectrum disorder peer support and information in an active, fun, and safe atmosphere.

If you want to meet new friends who have an autistic sibling to talk about experiences and explore how to handle challenging situations, Sibshops is for you! But it’s not all talk and no play. There will be plenty of time to participate in some fun games and recreation!

Els for Autism® staff is very excited to bring Sibshops to The Els Center of Excellence® in Jupiter, Florida, as this curriculum is used throughout the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Argentina, Ecuador, Iceland, Ireland, England, Italy, Malta, Singapore, and Turkey.

Participation in these Sibshops demonstrates a long-standing commitment to supporting and caring for their autistic sibling.

In addition to offering Sibshops in July, we also offer the Sam’s Sibs Stick Together Room. This support group meets virtually every month to address the needs of siblings of individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities and is led by a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.

Register below for the Sibshops now!

* Minimum of 4 Siblings Must Register to hold the Sibshop with a maximum of 10 in a group.

Register: Sam Sib's Stick Together Room

Step 1 of 3

Meets the 4th Tuesday of Each Month from 5 – 6 p.m. EST on the Els for Autism Campus (Fall Semester Dates: September 26, October 24, November 28)
Price: $150.00
Meets the 2nd Tuesday of Each Month from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. EST on Zoom (Fall Semester Dates: September 12, October 10, November 14)
Price: $150.00
How Pro Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els’ Journey of Raising his Autistic Son has Impacted the World

Ernie Els has many titles, including “World of Golf Hall of Famer,” “Four-Time Major Champion,” and “The Big Easy,” but to Samantha and Ben, he’s “Dad.”

He married his wife, Liezl, in 1999, and shortly after, a perfectly healthy baby girl, named Samantha (Sam), entered their world. A few years later, along came their son, Ben. “From a very early age, we could sense that there was something not quite the same. They all say boys are a little bit slower, we all understand that, but Ben was particularly slow even to start crawling and didn’t make a lot of eye contact.”

Since Ben was born in 2002, there was not a lot of information on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But when Ernie and Liezl started researching, they realized Ben checked every box. Ben was officially diagnosed with ASD at age three and a half years old.

They were living in England at the time and decided to enroll Ben in the same school as Sam. “He didn’t react well to the school, and, in fact, he absolutely despised going there. He couldn’t communicate with us, and it was tough on us all. Then, we started realizing, ‘You know what? Let’s try and find out what makes Ben happy.’ That is when our whole world started changing, and it’s because of a school we found in Florida.”

The Els family found a home in Palm Beach and enrolled their son in the school they had found. “He started loving it because he was going to school with his buddies; he was going to a place where he felt comfortable. He was so at ease, and he started smiling and just started opening up.”

The school was just what Ben needed; however, it was housed in an old commercial building with makeshift classrooms. “That’s when Liezl said, ‘It’s time to build something proper for kids with autism.'”

Using his golf platform, Ernie and Liezl, along with good friend, Marvin Shanken, of M.Shanken Communications, set out to establish the Els for Autism Foundation®, a 501 (c)(3), in 2009. They knew the best way to raise funds was through golf, and in March 2009, the inaugural Els for Autism Pro-Am raised $725,00, followed by the inaugural Golf Challenge in 2011, which raised $1.7 million.

In March 2014, they broke ground on a 26-acre property in Jupiter, Florida, to build the Els Center of Excellence® to serve individuals with ASD from age three through adulthood. The campus is now home to two educational wings, the Rupert Education Wing and the Shanken Education Wing, a Sensory Arts Garden, and the soon-to-be-completed Stoops Family Adults Services building. “At age 21, the system stops, either the child goes back into society or back home. Our adult services program strives to provide opportunities, such as employment and day programs, to these adults.”

But Ernie is far from done making the campus a haven for individuals with ASD. “Our next project is going to be building a recreation complex with a gymnasium, handicap accessible pool, and splash pad. We already have a little golf range and tennis courts on our property, and we do all kinds of recreation activities for individuals with ASD to come and just be themselves simply.” In fact, the Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Programs are changing the culture of sports and recreation by supporting individuals with ASD to feel included and confident to participate in recreational activities on and off our campus.

Even though Ernie has changed the game for thousands of individuals with ASD and their caregivers, he still reflects on the early years. “For those two years, I didn’t feel good about putting Ben in the same school as Sam. I kind of blame myself for some of the stuff, but now my relationship with Ben is fantastic. We’re best of friends. He loves golf, he’s not very athletic, but he loves coming to the golf course; he loves being outdoors; he loves people. He’s just a different guy.”

Els also commends the support of his daughter. “Samantha, she’s got to get so much credit, because, for a long time, she had to play second fiddle. And she’s come through it with flying colors. She’s a wonderful person, and she’s going to be looking after Ben when we’re not there, and she says she’s looking forward to that.”

To date, the Els for Autism Foundation team has raised more than $50 million to create a world of limitless possibilities for individuals with ASD and their families, thanks to the drive of Ernie Els, proud dad of Sam and Ben.


Raising my Two “Awesomely, Awesome, of Awesomeness” Autistic Sons

By Merrick Egber

We, as an organization, are dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and our staff are on the gamut of helping to lead the way to a better future for them.

David L. Mendel, our Employment Specialist/Job Coach and Registered Behavior Technician, is one of them and also a father of two young boys with ASD. For this Father’s Day, I wanted to interview him on how the diagnosis of ASD for his two sons impacted him, why he started to work here, and what impact he is making daily to help others, like his sons, to understand their place in this big, beautiful world that we live in.

Originally from Philadelphia, PA, David obtained his bachelor’s degree at West Chester University where he had careers in retail management and being a middle school teacher. After the birth of his oldest son, Salvatore, in 2012, he moved to Florida in 2014 and made the career shift to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy after his second son was born in 2015. David’s career in ABA therapy led him to be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) and is certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). While working in the field, he also developed skills that would lead to him becoming an employment specialist allowing him to work with children and adults. David also volunteers in the community with his sons at various special needs events.

Before your sons were born, what did you know about autism?

“I didn’t know much about autism before my son’s diagnosis. I have a cousin who has autism, but it was never explained to me other than the way he spoke. When Salvatore (Sal) was diagnosed, I began to learn more about ASD. To build a connection and to have a better relationship with Sal, I also began my journey as an ABA therapist.”

Where did you first hear about the Els for Autism Foundation®?

“I first heard about the foundation when my wife and I were researching for a school for our son, Sal, when he was first diagnosed, but at that time we lived much further away.”

What services and programs did you or do you use at Els for Autism®?

“I work in Adult Services, as part of the Employment Team, and on occasion assist with the ADT program. My son attended summer camp last year, and Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott met Sal during that camp and saw he needed communication support. Dr. Lozott then collaborated with Claire Seefried, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP), and gave Sal an Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) assessment which opened the door to him having his own AAC device. Now, he is thriving at communication. Also, my co-workers share the resources they found with their clients in the past that I did not know about, and I use some of those services to help both of my boys. I am forever thankful for their collaboration and the support they have given me.”

What made you want to become an employee of Els for Autism Foundation?

“In my career as an RBT, I always heard how well Els for Autism collaborates, teaches, and empowers the individuals they serve and their families. As a parent and an ABA therapist, I knew that I wanted to belong with an organization, like Els for Autism, so I can grow my career to help other individuals like my sons, Sal and Domenic.”

While working at the Foundation, how did your understanding of the condition grow?  

“I found, working in the Adult Services department, there is more than what I thought Sal could do after completing school. I have some clients that are like Sal in their communication and behavior. I now can see that Sal can have a bright future because of my experience with these clients. Sal can have a job, be productive in society, and have independence when he grows up. After all, isn’t that what every father dreams about their kid’s future?”

How has it impacted your family knowing that you are making a living improving the lives of those with autism, like your sons?

“Our family has become more hopeful, knowing more about the options Sal has for his future. Also, I know that there are people, like me, within the Els for Autism community that will strive for the best resources for a better quality of life for the community that my children are a part of.”

What’s the most rewarding part of raising sons with autism?

“My two boys are unique in their own ways. They have talents that some people take a lifetime to discover. However, for them, it’s natural, and it is rewarding to see them find their natural abilities.”

What does Father’s Day mean to you?

“Being a father is rewarding itself. I have two boys of my own that I raise with my wife. My boys may struggle, but I am so proud of their achievements and what they already have overcome. Father’s Day is a day that I can reflect on how lucky I am to have these two awesomely, awesome, of awesomeness boys that show me the enjoyments of life that I could only imagine until I had them. Father’s Day to me is a day I always reserve to hang out with the boys that call me Dad.”

We would like to thank David Mendel for taking his time and engaging with us about what matters about being a father and raising two sons with autism. We would like to wish everyone a happy Father’s Day and show appreciation for the fathers who have cared for you, supported you, and guided you when you needed to find a way through.

The Els for Autism Foundation® Team Receives Million Dollar Grant to Launch the U CAN EMPLOY™ Initiative

The Els for Autism Foundation team has been awarded a multi-year million-dollar grant from Make Waves Foundation to develop and launch the U Can Employ initiative.

The Make Waves Foundation empowers and supports youth and adults with neurological, intellectual, and physical challenges that defy expectations. “In the next ten years, a half million individuals with autism will transition into adulthood. We are proud to support the U Can Employ initiative that will set companies up for success to employ individuals with autism,” says Donna Roth, Founder and Director, Make Waves Family Foundation. “Our goal is to support people with autism and other developmental disabilities so they can live meaningful, happy lives and be productive, valued community members.”

“We are incredibly grateful for the support of Make Waves Foundation and their leadership in paving the way to further establishing an inclusive workplace for people with ASD,” said Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Executive Director, Els for Autism. “Through the U Can Employ initiative, we aim to increase employment opportunities for individuals with ASD by providing the necessary training, consultation, and support to companies looking to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”

The U Can Employ initiative is a significant step in creating a more inclusive workplace, as investors and shareholders increasingly recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion in environmental, social, and governance investing. In addition, research has found that companies already employing individuals with disabilities report an 89% higher retention rate, a 72% increase in employee productivity, and a 28% increase in profitability.

This groundbreaking program will provide direct training, support, and consultation to large and small companies interested in recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retaining employees with ASD. Furthermore, this program will be accessible to companies of all sizes through varying tiered membership services, including free access to downloadable tools and webinars.

The first U Can Employ pilot site launched with Next Level Distribution, a distributor of consumer electronics and 12V products this month. A second pilot with SBA Communications Corporation, a leading independent owner and operator of wireless communications infrastructure, including towers, buildings, rooftops, distributed antenna systems (DAS), and small cells, is set to launch this fall. The specialized group of consultants, powered by the Els for Autism team, will work closely with both companies to provide consultation to their HR team to recruit, hire, onboard, and retain employees with autism and related disabilities.

For more information about the U Can Employ initiative, please contact the Els for Autism team at

Summertime Tips for Sleep for Children with Autism

Summertime sleep routines are often challenging due to time out of school, work, and vacations. As sleep problems are very common, reportedly as high as 80 percent in children with ASD, it is crucial to establish good sleep hygiene and routines.  

Maintaining consistent bedtime routines and sleep hygiene help reduce daytime sleepiness, learning problems, and behavioral issues such as hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and aggression (Autism Speaks, 2023), allowing for an individual to be more engaged, emotionally regulated, and attentive throughout the day.

Using dark curtains or black-out blinds, blocking out external noise with sound machines, and removing distractions like electronic devices are all beneficial to maintaining a good sleep routine.  

For information on best practices in sleep routines, please check out our E-TEAM Webinar: Sleep Supports and Strategies for Children with Autism and Related Disabilities, presented by Marissa Eck.

Social Programs for Adults with Autism

It’s important to remain active and engaged during summer. Individuals with physical disabilities and/or developmental disabilities who participate in activities experience increased self-confidence and overall quality of life. Programs available at the Els for Autism Foundation® for adults to consider this summer include: 

The Spoken Wheel Society: A social group for adults with autism founded by Merrick Egber, an adult with autism. Each month the group meets both on campus at The Els Center of Excellence®, virtually, and in the community to participate in social and leisure activities. For more information or to become a member of The Spoken Wheel Society, contact our Employment Specialist/Job Coach, Kaylan Wrightson at 561-598-6200 or

The Adult Connections Club: An online club designed to provide individuals 13 years of age and older opportunities to interact with peers in a safe and supportive environment using video conferencing technology while practicing social and communication skills. Els for Autism® staff facilitate meetings, providing support and guidance so individuals of all abilities can actively participate in the group. Each meeting will follow a schedule, including a welcome introduction; a review of expectations; a stretching routine; fun facts; and a variety of discussion topics, games, and activities.

The Spectrum Book Club: A book club is designed for individuals ages 18 and older with autism or developmental disabilities who enjoy exploring the world of literature. Participants do not need to own a copy of the book. During the meeting, participants will be able to see the story, and Els for Autism staff will facilitate the group. Participants may take an active role as a reader during the meeting, or they can choose to listen to their peers. At the end of each meeting. staff will lead the group in a discussion and Q&A.

For more information on our Connections Club or the Spectrum Book Club, contact our Recreation Services Manager, Greg Connors at 561.598.6200 or by email at 

We are currently finalizing our Rec Schedule for fall. Stay Tuned!

Autism and Swim Safety

We all look forward to the summer months since there are so many fun activities and family vacations to enjoy. Here are our tips for a successful, fun summer!

Swim Safety:
Swimming is a fun activity that most families engage in during the summer months. However, it is critical for children with autism to learn how to swim and engage in the water safely, as drowning is the number one cause of death in autism, and Florida leads the way in child drownings resulting in death. To ensure water safety is part of your child’s summer, enroll your child in swimming lessons, use caution when using flotation devices, keep all doors locked, including pool gates, and never leave your child unattended when near water.

Additional information and resources on water safety and drowning prevention can be found on the Autism Society of Florida website.

Access a financial voucher for swimming lessons through The Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County.

To expand the recreation activities available at The Els Center of Excellence® campus and to provide individuals with autism with a full range of recreation choices, Els for Autism has launched a Capital Campaign to support funding a Gymnasium, Aquatic Center, Splash Pad, or other offerings at the Recreation Complex. The Aquatic Center will be a multipurpose facility to serve the needs of individuals with ASD, their families, and the community. In addition, the Ernie Els GameOn Autism® Aquatics program will be offered at the Aquatic Center to further ensure individuals with autism learn to swim and stay safe in the water. Support our Capital Campaign for the Recreation Complex – Els for Autism.

Community-based Sensory-Friendly & Inclusion Summer Experiences

Going out in the community may be difficult for some people on the spectrum due to their individual sensory needs. However, scheduling community outings in sensory-inclusive settings can enhance the experience an individual with ASD or another developmental disability has in the community. Things to consider when looking for a sensory-friendly community-based experience include but may not be limited to locations with reduced sound levels, limited to no flashing or strobe lights, minimal special effects, and spaces specifically designed for individuals with ASD to take a break. A few sensory-inclusive experiences to consider this summer include:

Sensory Saturdays
The Cox Science Center and Aquarium is open for special exploration hours the first Saturday of every month from 9 – 10 a.m., specifically designed for families affected by autism spectrum disorder, sensory processing or cognitive challenges, or other guests requiring assistance for disabilities.

Family Fun at Mounts Botanical Garden
From a giant outdoor fort and maze to towering moai statutes, a gorgeous butterfly garden, and the opportunity to feed the koi fish, MBG has much to offer youngsters – and the young at heart! Sensory backpacks are available at Mounts Botanical Garden to support children and families.

Sensory-Inclusive Performances | Broward Center for the Performing Arts
The Broward Center for the Performing Arts’ sensory-inclusive performances are intended to create a welcoming and supportive environment for children and adults on the autism spectrum and individuals with other sensitivity issues or developmental disabilities.

Tips for Transitioning Into Adulthood over the Summer

For youth transitioning into adulthood, it’s an exciting time, but it can leave you with questions. Our Associate Director, Robin Jones, M.S., M.Ed, has tips for a successful transition into adulthood over the summer.

Mental Health Matters to Autism

By Merrick Egber

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. From individual to group sessions, the Els for Autism Foundation® offers a suite of mental health services.

Start by asking yourself, “Am I feeling fine?” If the answer is ‘no,’ and you are affiliated with the autism community, then resources are available to you. As a follow-up to one of our latest news articles regarding the collaboration of Els for Autism and the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) to support individuals with autism and psychiatric diagnoses, we reached out to Cheryl Checkers, M.S., LMHC, the President of NAMI Palm Beach County, and Erin Brooker Lozott, BCBA-D, CCC-SLP, the Program Director at Els for Autism, about autism and mental health.

Why is Mental Health Awareness so important regarding treatments and therapies for the autism community?

Cheryl: “Children and adults with autism are likelier to experience a mental health condition than their neurotypical peers. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) 70 percent of autistic individuals are diagnosed with one mental health condition, and up to 40 percent are diagnosed with two or more mental health conditions. However, recent research suggests these numbers are even higher.

“A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that mental health conditions were already present in nearly 45 percent of preschool children with autism. In contrast, this study found that only about 14 percent of children without autism experience mental health conditions. In addition, several studies found that as individuals with autism grow older, the prevalence of mental health conditions increases.

“Despite these staggering statistics, there is a shortage of mental health professionals understand autism. In addition, the mental health and autism worlds can seem to be distinctly different systems of care, which often creates a barrier for individuals with autism to find the mental health support they need.”

Erin: “Due to 70 to 95 percent of children and adolescents with ASD having at least one co-occurring psychiatric disorder and 73 to 81 percent of adults with ASD meeting the criteria for at least one current co-occurring psychiatric disorder (Mosner et al., 2019), it is critical for providers working in the field of autism to have competencies in evidence-based practices for autism and mental health and mental disorders to make a change.”

As you both are mothers of daughters with autism, what could you tell me second-hand about your daughter’s experiences with mental health and autism?

Cheryl: “As a parent of a now adult daughter with autism and as a clinician who is an autism specialist, I continually witness the devastation untreated co-occurring mental health conditions cause. In many cases, these mental health challenges cause a greater impact on quality of life than autism challenges do and can lead to crises. This was the case for my daughter when she reached adolescence. Professionals continued to focus on her autism, and she received labels of ‘difficult,’ ‘defiant,’ and ‘manipulative’ rather than ‘overwhelmed,’ ‘depressed,’ and ‘anxious.'”

Erin: “From my daughter’s perspective, she is constantly trying to figure out why she must ‘feel the way she feels,’ ‘act the way she acts,’ and why she isn’t and can’t be like the ‘other girls.’ My daughter’s experiences with mental health have always seemed to take the front seat to her diagnosis of autism, with depression and anxiety causing her the greatest of struggles. In addition, she has experienced bullying and difficulty maintaining established friendships. My daughter has learned to look for the ‘yellow versus red flags’ to ensure she doesn’t misperceive levels of friendship or kindness. Finally, my daughter has had to experience going to multiple doctors and therapists continuously. During these appointments, people constantly discuss her areas of need versus her incredible strengths and talents. She now begs for the day she won’t have to see another doctor again. All this said, my daughter also understands the gifts her diagnoses bring and holds on to all the positives having a unique brain has to offer.”

What are some misconceptions about co-morbidities of mental health challenges and autism?

Cheryl: “There are several misconceptions about autism and co-occurring mental health challenges. Most are due to the lack of awareness and limited information on this topic. The most common, and perhaps most damaging, is the perception that any challenge a person with autism has is attributable to their autism. For this reason, the mental health of children and adults with autism is often neglected. This leads to untreated mental health conditions, which worsen and are harder to treat. In addition, as was the case with my daughter and many clients, it takes a mental health crisis to get the proper mental health support in place finally.”

Erin: “That medicine can fix the co-morbidities, one type of therapy alone will make the change needed for a life of happiness and success, and even with all the best doctors, therapists, and perfect pharmacological intervention, things will be fixed. Mental health and autism are about management; it is not about fixing anything. It is a lifelong journey that requires specialized care and a huge support system. Mental health and autism are about learning how to embrace the most challenging moments and celebrate the times of success, peace, and happiness. It is so difficult. The best analogy I can give is it is like having to work all day and night, and though you put all your effort and dedication into the practice, the difficulty level often (but not always) stays relatively the same.”

What are the resources in the community for NAMI and the Els for Autism Foundation for dual diagnoses of autism and mental health issues?

Cheryl: “I have strongly advocated for bridging the autism and mental health worlds for over 25 years. It brought me to my profession and continues to drive my professional and advocacy work. I lead the FAU Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (FAU CARD) co-occurring autism and mental health skilled task force. NAMI and Els for Autism are members of this vital initiative to increase awareness and mental health support for individuals with autism. This task force is a collaboration between CARD, community and private clinicians, mental health providers, universities, educators, and agencies working together to increase the capacity of professionals who can support individuals with autism spectrum disorder and mental health needs and their families.

“NAMI of Palm Beach County does an excellent job of increasing awareness of co-occurring autism and mental health conditions through community collaborations, speaker series, conference presentations, publications, and more. These exciting collaborations are helping to bring the autism and mental health worlds together. However, continued vigilance is needed to assure appropriate mental health treatment and support options are available for individuals with autism.”

Erin: “In addition to Els for Autism, NAMI, and FAU CARD, here are some additional resources: Jennifer Smyth (LMHC)Southeast Florida Behavioral Health, 988 Lifeline (formally known as 211), Vocational RehabilitationAgency for Persons with Disabilities.”

About the Interviewees:

Cheryl Checkers, M.S., LMHC, is the President of NAMI, PBC (National Alliance on Mental Illness, Palm Beach County). She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) and the Founder of Checkers Counseling and Consulting. She is also the Clinical Consultant for FAU-CARD for the dual diagnosis of autism and mental health disorders.

Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott, Ed.D., BCBA-D, CCC-SLP is the Els for Autism Foundation® Program Director. Dr. Lozott is a doctoral-level board-certified behavior analyst and licensed speech-language pathologist. She is appointed to a scientific advisory committee and a clinical excellence committee for international autism organizations. She has co-authored several publications on autism spectrum disorder topics and has presented and consulted extensively nationally and internationally.