In college, I took a part-time job working with a child with autism. This was when autism was not a familiar term and the only picture of autism was Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rainman. The child I cared for captured my heart. He loved highways and state maps. He came home with me on holidays and became a part of my family. Needless to say, the rest was history, and my career in autism was born.
I began my traditional clinical psychologist education and my autism training at the same time. I was so fortunate to be studying at Xavier University as The Kelly O'Leary Center (TKOC) was forming at Cincinnati Children’s. This gave me the opportunity to train under the best in the field while this organization was in its infancy.
Today, TKOC is one of the elite autism centers in the United States. The center works with parents and children to meet the challenges they face daily at home, in school and in the community. I returned to TKOC for a postdoctoral fellowship and started our Early Intensive Behavior Intervention (EIBI) program for young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
As a clinical psychologist, I treat children and adolescents with behavioral or developmental problems. I also help young children with ASD and their families, especially with early intervention, toilet training and feeding problems.
While our EIBI program provides treatments directly to kids with ASD, I believe in “parents first” as partners. We are only as good as our parent relationships for any level of intervention, and while treatment providers change over time, parents do not. Parents are a stable presence in their children's lives. We work with the kids directly for short-term gains, but through their parents for lifelong gains.
My team and I were honored to receive the Imagination and Courage Award for the EIBI team by the Dr. Jack Rubinstein Foundation in the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s in 2016 and 2019. I have an amazing team of professionals who provide compassionate care and early intervention to families of children with ASD. They are always humbled to received recognition for the hard work they do every day.
I’ve also received awards from the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati (ASGC) and Families for Effective Autism Treatment (FEAT) of Greater Cincinnati.
In my research, my colleagues and I are looking at models of early intervention and early social communication. We are also seeking better methods of managing toilet training, feeding and anxiety.
Free time is a misnomer as a fulltime working mom. However, I enjoy coaching my kids and spending all my free moments with them in their activities and volunteering in the community. I love watching my children feel fulfilled and important when they help others. It's so important for kids to know they can give and make a difference, too.