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Els for Autism Foundation® appoints new Chairman of the Board: Michael Alessandri, Ph.D.

Jupiter, Florida – March 08, 2023 – Els for Autism Foundation today announced the appointment of visionary autism expert, Dr. Michael Alessandri, Ph.D. as Chairman of the Board. Alessandri, who joined the Els for Autism board in 2019, succeeds Marvin R. Shanken, Co-Founder, Els for Autism Foundation and Publisher and Founder of M.Shanken Communications.

“We are so proud to have available to us, a leading expert in autism with vast academic credentials and experience for our entire program.” Honorary Chair, Marvin Shanken Dr. Michael Alessandri is the Executive Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). Dr. Alessandri has been a professor at UM since 1996 and has worked with individuals with autism and their families since 1981 in various capacities.

“I am honored to assume the role of Chairman of the Board of the Els for Autism Foundation, a one-of-a-kind autism center of excellence that is transforming lives through its innovation in research and educational and therapeutic programming for clients across the lifespan and the globe. I’m especially humbled that the baton has been passed to me by a man I deeply admire, Marvin Shanken, who has led the Foundation with passion and determination. Together, with our first-rate board, leadership team, and staff, the next phase for the Els for Autism Foundation will be one of breathtaking and impactful growth and expansion.” states Dr. Alessandri. Dr. Alessandri has presented, consulted and published internationally on developing appropriate and effective educational programs for students with autism. In addition, he has received numerous research and service grants and several notable awards within the field including being named Visionary Leader of the Year Award by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, David Lawrence Jr. Champion for Children by The Children’s Trust, and Wendy F. Miller Autism Professional of the Year by the Autism Society of America.

“We are grateful to Marvin for all that he has done for the Foundation from inception and look forward to what’s to come under the direction of Dr. Michael Alessandri.” Ernie and Liezl Els, co-founders of Els for Autism.


(November 28, 2022)  Scott Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer, ComForcare Home Care, interviews Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Executive Director, Els for Autism Foundation on what autism is, prevalence and red flags, advances in genetic research, evidence based interventions, and autism in adulthood.  Dr. Sotelo also discusses The Els Center of Excellence campus, the future recreation center, and the need for specialized swim and water safety instruction to prevent drowning.  Episode 458

To listen, click here

59:31 in length

THANK YOU, American Diagnostic Corporation (ADC) for being our longest time, “giveback” partner and reaching $20,000 in donations!

American Diagnostic Corporation’s Story
by Marc Blitstein, President and CEO

American Diagnostic Corporation (ADC) is one of the world’s premier manufacturers of diagnostic medical products, personal instruments, and accessories for the healthcare industry.

Thirty-five ago, we hired our first developmentally disabled employee. We were a tiny firm, employing fewer than 10, and had published an ad seeking help in our production department. The only candidate to show up was a young man named Glen who rode his bicycle seven miles to our offices. He gave me a note written by his mom asking that we give him a chance. We did, and we’ve never looked back. Today, we’re one of New York’s largest private employers of people with developmental disabilities, accounting for more than 10% of our workforce. This allows us to keep jobs in the U.S. while helping local adults find sustainable employment. These colleagues work in positions throughout production, maintenance, shipping, and quality control. Together, they represent more than 250 years of combined service to ADC.

In 2014, seeking a way to make an impact on a national level, we partnered with a young foundation, Els for Autism, co-founded by the legendary golfer Ernie and his wife Liezl. The foundation is committed to better understanding the aspirations of people with autism spectrum disorder and helping them to fulfill their potential to lead positive, productive, and rewarding lives. Through their high-quality programs and innovative interventions, they’ve become a game-changing resource for individuals and families. Through the collaboration, ADC developed a series of professional grade aneroid sphygmomanometers featuring puzzle pieces, directing a portion of the profits to Els. In 2022 we expanded the collaboration to include five of our Adscope stethoscopes. Today, we donate 10% from the sale of these instruments to Els for Autism, year-round.

To learn more about the product line, visit For more information regarding our workforce initiatives, watch our video at

Become an ongoing giveback partner with Els for Autism:

Connor Cares Fundraising Event

Connor B. Sturgis has been mentioned many times by Els for Autism Chairman and Founder, Marvin R. Shanken, as a great person who inspires him. Due to Connor’s commitment to making it better for the autism community and his empowering presence at The Learning Academy (TLA), a Palm Beach County charter school on The Els Center of Excellence campus, he has been made the newest member of the Els for Autism Advisory Board.  Connor is currently employed as a Full-Time Customer Service Associate at Publix, one of the largest grocery chains in the country. This has led Connor to brainstorm on how to connect Els for Autism with Publix through fundraising initiatives.

On Saturday, July 2nd, the first Connor Cares event was hosted at the Publix store where he works. Connor, along with members of the Adult Day Training (ADT) program, were present.  The ADT team was able to showcase ‘Sea of Possibilities’ a microbusiness selling beach-inspired arts and crafts items with proceeds going to support the currently under-construction Adult Services building. The local West Palm Beach News Station, WPBF 25, was on the scene:

You can purchase ‘Sea of Possibilities’ items here:

Make sure to follow ‘Sea of Possibilities’ on Facebook for the latest updates, too!

Grow + Connect + Thrive

When young adults with autism and other disabilities age out of the school system, Els for Autism Foundation® wants to make sure they have a special place to go to, a place to grow, connect, and thrive. Upon completion in 2023, the Stoops Family Foundation Adult Services building will be the location from which the Foundation will deliver programs and services for adults that include:
Employment Training, Support and Placement – providing training/coaching and job placement with corporate and organizational partners. The building will contain vocational training labs focusing on retail, grocery, business and food services, including a café with drive-through service; and a gift shop area for the signature microbusiness, ‘Sea of Possibilities’.

Day Training – to build on each participant’s skills in areas of socialization, recreation, and community involvement to increase independence.
Supported Living – a two-bedroom suite serves a dual purpose as a vocational lab for the hospitality industry (hotel employment) and as a lab for teaching independent living skills
Post-Graduation – support in transitioning to life after school through vocational and independent living skills training post-graduation.

Microbusiness – Creating, marketing, and selling artwork to teach transferable business skills such as communications, customer service, money management, and product creation.
A special thanks goes to the Stoops Family Foundation and the Langenfeld family for their generous donations to cover the construction cost of the building. But the Foundation needs additional donor support to furnish the inside spaces. Additionally, the Foundation has an essential need for a business or restaurant partner to manage the café that will include a drive-through service.
On the days the charter schools are in operation, The Els Center of Excellence® campus welcomes approximately 800 people to campus, including:
• Els for Autism Foundation – staff, interns, clients, support organizations (such as the First Tee), and volunteers
• The Learning Center and The Learning Academy – teachers, school administration, support staff, students, and the student’s family/caretakers
People working on the campus are very excited to have a café service available to them and the café will be one of the important spaces on the campus where adults with autism can grow, connect, and thrive. For more information on donations for the inside spaces of the building or the café partnership, contact Dr. Marlene Sotelo –

Adult Services Building - Cafe Rendering

Adult Services Building Cafe Video

Els for Autism Research Study is Published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

Spring into Action Together (SIAT) is an Els for Autism® caregiver-implemented, early education program for children who are 18 months to 3 years of age. In collaboration with the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai, a pilot study was conducted to examine outcomes for toddlers and young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism symptomatology following the SIAT four-week caregiver coaching program implemented by trained therapists. The results, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (JADD), conclude that a pilot study of SIAT improved social communication and language skills.

Through this study, researchers identified significant benefits of caregiver-directed coaching, which offers increased intervention accessibility due to decreased time demands and strategies that are intended to be generalized to everyday environments. The study also found improvement in caregiver knowledge and parental engagement with their child.

A parent participating in the study said, “The Spring into Action program helped our family understand and implement strategies based on our son’s individual needs in regard to communication, play skills, and engagement. The program was designed so that we felt empowered to implement the new skills into our daily lives! Our biggest takeaways were understanding the communication hierarchy, where my son was at, and the next step to help him grow, as well as a daily schedule that he thrived with. Previous to the [SIAT] program, we were not having success with the picture schedule and the SIA program used a manipulative-based schedule that helped him tremendously and so we implemented this into his day after the completion of the program.”

This study was funded by The Seaver Els Institute with support from the Els for Autism Foundation and the Beatrice & Samuel A. Seaver Foundation.

For more information about the pilot study and the SIAT program, contact Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott –

Save the Date for the 2023 RECREATION Conference

Participation in recreation activities is critically important for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disorders. These various activities and experiences produce emotions of achievement, and enjoyment and promote inclusion, self-confidence, and increased quality of life.
The Autism Innovations and Global Impact Conference: RE-creating RECREATION as a Supplemental Intervention for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder will convene on March 23 and 24, 2023, at The Els Center of Excellence® campus in Jupiter, Florida. Grand sponsors of the conference are Hazel and Marvin R. Shanken.
The conference will focus on demonstrating how recreation can be used as a platform for other supplemental therapeutic interventions. Leaders in recreation programs and services, dedicated to improving the lives of individuals on the autism spectrum, will be featured. The conference will provide tools and best practices for organizations, providers, and practitioners interested in initiating or expanding recreation services to individuals with ASD and other developmental disorders. Topics covered will include recreation activities and experiences in the areas of:

Sports | Fitness |Healthy Living | Wellbeing |Arts | Leisure

Conference participants will be invited to participate in the Roots and Ruts 5K Run/Walk on the morning of March 25, 2023. Registration information will be coming soon.

SAVE THE DATE and plan to attend!
If you have questions about the conference, contact Greg Connors –


The Autism Spectrum Award is an award we have given annually since 2015 to the individual with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who is voted as having the most representative hallmarks of ‘character, positive, attitude, and contribution. This year, we are accepting nominations until Friday, August 12, 2022. The winner will get to attend the Grand Finale in the Bahamas where they’ll be recognized and invited to join our Advisory Board!

Nomination Link Here:

The History of the Els for Autism Spectrum Award:

In 2014, we received grant funding to create the Ernie Els #GameON Autism® Golf curriculum and pilot it nationwide. The very next year, pilot sites located in our Golf Challenge even cities were selected to host the classes using the curriculum and provide feedback. At our selected pilot site in Texas Els for Autism was introduced to Joshua Deer, an individual with ASD, who was trained to be one of the first Official Program Providers of the Ernie Els #GameON Autism Golf program.  Joshua Deer made an exemplary impact on the autism community through his involvement in golf and hockey. In addition, his family was our top fundraiser for our Golf Challenge Series that year. As a result of these accomplishments, Joshua Deer was the inspiration for and the recipient of the first Els for Autism Spectrum Award.
In 2016, Gloria Mendoza received the award in recognition of her accomplishments with the SAP Autism at Work Program. Gloria was recognized at the Golf Challenge Grand Finale Awards Ceremony and Gala.

In 2017, the nomination process evolved into what it is today – nominations are submitted by the general public and blind voting by a committee of staff, board members, and community partners choose the winner. The new winner is invited to the Grand Finale as well as the previous year’s winner who presents the award., and In 2017,we also began inviting the winner of the award  to join the Advisory Board.

OUR WINNERS – 2015 – 2021


Joshua ‘Deersey’ Deer – Certified Golf Instructor at Iron Horse Golf Course and Assistant Equipment Manager at Lone Star Brahmas

Joshua Deer, or Deersey, was the first Ernie Els #GameOn Autism® Golf Official Program Provider with ASD and to this day, utilizes our curriculum at the Iron Horse Golf Course, where he was hired after winning the Autism Spectrum Award. Whether it’s his placing of inspirational Bible verses on the equipment he works with or his determination to teach our unique golf program to others, he is of great character and he continues to inspire others!

Gloria Mendoza – Project Manager at SAP

Gloria Mendoza was, like many individuals with ASD, frustrated with the challenge of  finding suitable employment. With her tenacity and spirit, even when faced with obstacles, she kept working at it,and found her path through the support of the SAP Autism At Work Program. Ever since then she has traveled through the company considerably and serves as a remarkable friend to her peers at SAP with ASD.


Rachel Barcellona –  Executive Director of Ability Beyond Disabilities Inc.

Rachel Barcellona, too was faced with adversity as she grew up. Her diagnoses of Asperger’s, Dyscalculia (Dyslexia but with mathematics), Dyspraxia (which controls communication and speech) and epilepsy, made it harder for her to be treated fairly in her school-age years. Yet, her positive spirit and ambition has allowed her to compete in pageants, becoming Miss Florida International in 2016, and the year she won the ASA, Miss Southeast International. Rachel also started the Ability Beyond Disabilities Inc. organization, providing a host of therapies and job training to any individual who seeks the services that the organization can provide.


Adam Jones – Barn Attendant at Madison Fields – a Division of the Madison House Autism Foundation

Adam Jones is a humble and proactive individual who has spent close to two decades involving himself in his special interest of horses. Working at Madison Fields, his responsibilities also allow him to be a role model and mentor to other individuals with autism employed by Madison Fields.


Haley Moss – Speaker, Writer, and Legal Consultant

Haley Moss is the first openly autistic lawyer to be certified by the Florida Bar Association. Her interest in seeing her peers empowered is immeasurable through her broadcasts, lectures, and published books.


Jim Hogan – Vice President in Accessibility of Technology at Google

Jim Hogan serves as an elder statesman at Google, and by his example he has been very much the mentor to his fellow employees with autism. His drive to become the best he can be through Google’s accessibility resources and his anti-bullying advocacy makes him an example of the profound potential of individuals on the spectrum.


Isabelle ‘Izzie’ Piwnicki – Intern at Girl AGain

Izzie Piwnicki serves the most misunderstood population of women with ASD. Through Co-Founding Girl AGain, a part of the Yes She Can initiative, women with autism have employment opportunities and vocational training working with the American Girl Doll line. She is also employed by Sephora where she has influenced the business culture in her store with her highly competent practices.

And the person you love could be next!


Please submit your nomination for the person whom you believe embodies character, positive attitude, and contribution to the autism community.

Nominations are accepted through midnight August 12th, 2022.


Research Study Published In Peer-Reviewed Journal: Els for Autism Spring into Action Together (SIAT) Program Empowers Caregivers with Skills and Knowledge to Improve Social Communication in Toddlers and Young Children with Autism

Jupiter, FL  (July 1, 2022) Spring into Action Together (SIAT) is an Els for Autism® caregiver-implemented, early education program for children who are 18 months to 3 years of age. A pilot study was conducted to examine outcomes for toddlers and young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism symptomatology following the SIAT 4-week caregiver coaching program implemented by trained therapists in collaboration with the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai. The results, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (JADD),conclude that a pilot study of SIAT improved social communication and language skills.

The SIAT program is designed to support communication, social engagement, and play skills by teaching caregivers skills that can be implemented in the child’s natural environment. This pilot study demonstrates the feasibility of the SIAT intervention, which ultimately may complement existing treatments by empowering parents with therapeutic skills to support their young children’s development.

Through this study, researchers identified significant benefits of caregiver-directed coaching, which offers increased intervention accessibility due to decreased time demands and strategies that are intended to be generalized to every day environments. The study also found improvement in caregiver knowledge and parental engagement with their child. This study was funded by The Seaver Els Institute with support from the Els for Autism Foundation and the Beatrice & Samuel A. Seaver Foundation.

Els for Autism® has provided programs and services to individuals with ASD across the lifespan, with a focus on early intervention and education, adult services, and recreation. Interventions in these areas are continuously studied to determine efficacy, and the core of these findings are shared worldwide to the individual with ASD, their family, support teams, and other professionals.

In Celebration of Autistic Pride Day: Meet our Advisory Board

June may seem like any other month, outside of the Summer Solstice (which celebrates the coming of Summer), the first month without school, and Juneteenth (the celebration of the end of slavery). However, for those of us who are autistic, there is a special day that is celebrated on the 18th of June each year and that is Autistic Pride Day. Celebrated in 2005, by Aspies for Freedom (‘Aspie’ is a term of usage for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism), on the birthday of their youngest member, and modeled after the Gay Pride Movement, Autistic Pride Day is meant to be a celebration of the accomplishments and humanity of those with autism – as a response to those who saw autism as a disease or as a handicap to success. Coincidentally, Autistic Pride Day is one day before my birthday. So, it is neat to know that I almost share a birthday with this person of honor.

As many who have listened to the Els for Autism Fore! Autism podcast know, I do not doubt that there is validity in thinking that cases of severe – or profound – autism are very different than how many self-advocates see autism. I also have learned, that something so integral to my character is something I should feel proud about and not need to focus on some sort of solution to change who I am. It is not always easy to do, but it is something I remind myself of constantly, and something I encourage others to strive for. Needless to say, I celebrate each and every person who struggles with finding their pride for having autism spectrum disorder. I celebrate every accomplishment each person has made achieved, no matter how small. At Els for Autism, we celebrate this collectively and emphasize the importance of giving individuals with autism a voice through our Advisory Board.

I would like to profile the strides that each member of our Advisory Board have made in the autism community. We are so grateful for their participation in this group who we hold with very high regard.

Sue Abramowski has worked in a full field of human services for two decades now specializing in helping those with developmental disabilities and mental health diagnoses from her lived-in experiences. The term ‘peer counselor’ or ‘peer mentor’ isn’t often used, but her connection to the communities she serves and her experiences in her environments shows how important it is for someone with a relevant background to be engaged with populations of people who need serious help in their lives. She is also great at communicating when one needs a friend.

Andrew Blitman is an example of how one’s different neurology can inform and enhance the global portfolio of creative arts. He has credited his prolific output of artwork, poetry and other writings for prior blog articles and his books as helping him understand the world around him better as a self-advocate with autism. I would recommend his books that use poetry and illustrations to characterize the animals of our world from Andrew’s point of view.

Mike DiMauro shows how an unconventional life lived through the prism of autism can be very helpful. Through his Mike’s Mission Group, he has used his ability of transportation to help him carry out a goal to deliver UberEats orders in all 50 states and through this uncommon goal has used his freedom to blog about his travels while also serving the country, one meal at a time. He is also very passionate about his position as a self-advocate with autism as he is very vocal and very outspoken about the status it has with him.

Merrick Egber leads the Advisory Board as Administrative Assistant at Els for Autism. With pride for the autism community, he is a champion of the self-advocacy community and stands alongside them to amplify their voices. Merrick is interested in learning new things and always uses his time to help and support the community wherever he can.

Jim Hogan is an example of how the tech industry can accommodate workers with autism – especially by having him in a leadership role! He has served as a role model for so many who have followed him into a job at Google and as an anti-bullying advocate has made sure that working conditions there are comfortable and safe. He has even talked about Accessibility with the ‘father of the Internet’ Vint Cerf and how important it is to accommodate those with autism in the workplace.

Adam Jones is an example of taking that interest – in his case horses and running with it to create a productive, life-changing and transformative career path. Adam Jones works for Madison Fields – a division of the Madison House Autism Foundation – a Work Experience and Equestrian Resource for individuals with autism – in a full capacity as a graduate of the prestigious Meredith Manor International Equestrian College. He serves as an example of someone whose drive, determination, and hyperfocus serve as a great complement to his great character.

Dr. Kerry Magro is a beacon in showcasing the hopes and dreams of the autism community through his constant speaking engagements, his books and his consulting tasks with his latest one being for the U.S. version of Love on the Spectrum. He also has the KFM – Making a Difference Foundation where he has interviewed numerous individuals with autism to fit them with scholarships for college. But, sometimes the most important thing that a self-advocate can do, which is true of everyone on the list, is to not just be hard at work on autism education and awareness but also to be happy at work!

Paul Morris has been important in spreading awareness through the college campus scene, and especially into fundraising related to physical activities – like March Madness, or Marathon Running. Besides awareness he has also partnered up with organizations, like the Autism Science Foundation, to champion the cause of autism research. Lastly, what is important is that he also has worked in the Human Resources field at New York Medical College and the Office of Human Resources is a major cog in all of our goals related to finding people with autism jobs.

Isabelle ‘Izzie’ Piwnicki is a role model for other women with autism. With her mother, she has served in a leadership role for the Girl AGain initiative as part of the ‘Yes She Can’ Work Experience Program in upstate New York. Girl AGain teaches women with autism valuable work-related skills through American Girl Dolls and related accessories. Ms. Piwnicki also serves as a dancer par excellence. By using her life experiences, she has been able to serve as a model employee for Sephora – a famous set of personal care and beauty product stores.

Ron Sandison serves as a major inspiration in his community. His strong belief system in his faith which has allowed him the ability to teach countless congregations about autism has also allowed him to serve as a strong supporter of the mental health community where he is. He also serves as a strong proponent of journalistic outreach to many notable personalities on the autism spectrum.

Katie Santoro shows that organizational leadership matters. From her college days as a sorority figure to her days, now as Junior Board Chair of the Unicorn Children’s Foundation, invited guest to the FAU-CARD Mental Health Task Force, and also as Member-at-Large as part of the Els for Autism Advisory Board she loves championing people from the inside. She is especially supportive of championing women with autism and has been very important in the overall journey to make sure that women with autism are diagnosed properly and treated adequately.

It is important that a special education curriculum has at least one professor in the field be someone who has been through the system, themselves, and Dr. Stephen Shore is an example of it sending off future special education professionals with reputable knowledge from prestigious Adelphi University. Dr. Shore is also a writer and has had books published on navigating the college scene with autism and a guide on understanding the condition. Beyond that as a speaker and presenter, he, like everyone else on here, gives a voice to those who may find it harder to speak.

Connor B. Sturgis is our newest Board Member and serves as a pillar of our local community. In his capacity as a greeter at his church and as a full-time customer service employee at Publix (A regional grocery store chain) he shows how supportive people with autism are to the society around them. His zeal is in having his ear to the grindstone to find ways to support his local autism community through fundraising efforts, championing initiatives by Publix or even by being a good classmate to his fellow TLA students before he graduated from there.

James A. Williams is our international member. Born in England, at a very early age he noticed that he had many differences in his socio-communicative understanding of the world around him but he also considers his neurological difference to affect his processing of sound and sight. In 2010, he watched a Youtube video on playing piano and decided to become a self-taught virtuoso. Now he has memorized so many pieces by heart and has traveled constantly performing his music to further the cause of awareness and charity. What is striking is that when he was much younger he wasn’t as interested in learning the piano – but sometimes your passion can take hold of you at a much later age than you may have expected.