Remembering my Mentor

Tris Smith was the greatest combination of intelligence and kindness I have ever known.

The distinction is one he won in my heart without my knowing and secured in my mind as he mentored me toward my dissertation. He listened to my cynicism and endured my self-doubt, giving me hope and confidence at a time when I lacked it and sorely needed it.

Today marks 1 year since his passing.


Much has been written and said about Tris’ contributions to the field of psychology and his care for those in it – both patients and providers – so I will not belabor a point better made by others.

Tris examined the impact of early intensive behavioral intervention for young children with autism spectrum disorder. This work began about 15 years ago and a follow-up study recently looked at how these children are now faring as adolescents and adults.

The clinical research Tris led lives and breathes still. 

Participants who were once children in these studies are now adolescents and adults, and I have had the fortune of knowing a few of these people as patients. I know that much of their progress is due to their own hard work and that of their families’, but I often think of Tris and his belief in scientific progress when I meet with them. I see the impact of his work every day.

During my training, Tris gave me the opportunity to work on a clinical study that focused on helping parents and caregivers learn strategies to support their young children with autism. This experience has shaped how I work with families and led me to adopt an approach that generally insists on getting to know parents as well as their children as part of helping the family as a whole.

Tris gave so much that it’s hard to imagine anyone filling the space his absence leaves. On learning of his passing last year, I shared a few words with others. I share them again here:

It is beyond my ability to summarize his intellectual contribution to the field of autism research. He studied under Ivar Lovaas as part of the initial group of researchers at UCLA who used the scientific method and randomized clinical trials to quite literally prove that therapy could help improve the lives of children with autism. He expanded on this research at the University of Rochester Medical Center and showed further how parents could learn strategies to improve the behavior of their children with autism in home and community settings. His more recent research reached directly into school districts and minority communities.

His contributions to the field of autism research are innumerable and incalculable. The work he led and supported will ripple out for many years after his passing. Tris was on my dissertation committee and the person I most credit with my being able to defend my dissertation. He was a consummate mentor. He was a mensch and will remain a saint to those who knew him well.

First Week Follow Up

I had an amazing first week in private practice. I met with 13 different families at both of my office locations and learned about their children who ranged in age from 4- to 22-years-old. The diversity of strengths and interests of each child, adolescent, and young adult gives me a great deal of hope and excitement about the weeks ahead as we forge a therapeutic relationship. Their families are incredibly engaged and motivated to help their loved ones flourish.

I am excited, too, that I have another 10 new clients scheduled for next week and a few additional new clients scheduled for my third week of practice. I really can’t thank my colleagues and friends enough for “getting the word out” about my practice and helping to build my schedule with wonderful new people. Rest assured, there is still plenty of space left, and I am eager to welcome more new clients in the coming weeks.

I’ve had folks from a few different organizations reach out to me asking if I have a flyer to share with them that they can hand out to families. I did not have a flyer, and I think it is a fabulous idea. I developed a first edition flyer to view, share, and download here

Please feel free to share it with others who may be interested. You can offer feedback on the flyer by reaching out to me directly, or in the comments section of this blog post. 

Thank you!

The Final Countdown

It's almost here and I feel like a kid eagerly awaiting Christmas morning. What is this "IT" I speak of? It's the first day of my private practice on Monday, July 11. 

While you may know some things about me, you probably have no idea how long this dream has been in the making. Back in the summer of 2005, I walked the Inner Harbor of Baltimore City with a girl* I was dating and first put words to my dream. It was tentatively worded and quietly uttered. Thank goodness that girl is neither tentative nor quiet and has supported me over the last 11 years with making this dream a reality.

*I asked that girl to marry me soon thereafter. She said yes. Some guys have all the luck.

This time is also bittersweet because I will not be at the University of Rochester for the first time in 9 years. My post-doctoral fellowship ended on June 30, and I am adjusting to the fact that I will not see my trusted colleagues and mentors on a daily basis. The folks I came to know at the U of R trained and prepared me well for this next step, and I am excited to meet so many new people along their own journeys.

An amazing farewell gift from my colleagues. The original is proudly displayed in my new office. They nicknamed me "coach" in clinic.

An amazing farewell gift from my colleagues. The original is proudly displayed in my new office. They nicknamed me "coach" in clinic.

So between now and 9 a.m. EST on Monday, July 11, I am taking some family time to rest and recharge before embarking on the next phase of my professional life. I leave you now with the epic imagery playing on a loop in my mind as I anticipate the days until July 11. 

The 1986 hit by Europe, "The Final Countdown" -  can't you hear the riff?

The 1986 hit by Europe, "The Final Countdown" - can't you hear the riff?