Conducted by David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment 

David: Vince, first and foremost, I am delighted to have you join me as Co-Editor of Science in Autism Treatment. Thank you for participating in this interview so that our readers can become acquainted with you and your background. We have known each other for 25 years so it seems fitting to ask you to share some details about your career path and how you first became involved in autism treatment?

Dr. Vincent Winterling

Vince: I came to the autism world via experiences in child mental health. At the bachelor’s level, I was enrolled in a specialty program to train Child Mental Health Specialists which was co-sponsored by a local university with field placements at a local, large state developmental center specializing in mental health issues and developmental disabilities. This was a time when Dr. Lovaas and his colleagues and students were working at this institution developing treatments for children with autism. I was fortunate to participate in a field training experience with young adults with autism in a workshop setting. Through that field experience, I was invited to participate as a research assistant in Dr. Lovaas’ lab. Those foundational experiences provided me with a wealth of knowledge that contributed to my career including applied behavior analysis, research, and data-based decision making. Also, through those experiences, I became an ally of ASAT in that I soon became aware of the need for science-based practices as the foundation for our treatment efforts. From those early days, I went on to pursue advanced training in ABA and special education. The advisors and mentors I had were solidly focused on a junior practitioner/researcher model, so I was accorded many opportunities to develop my skills.

David: What are some lessons learned over the course of your career about working with families and/or working with professionals from other disciplines as well as outside the field?

Vince: Of the many valuable career learning opportunities, I have been fortunate to work with families both in the design of individual intervention programs and in the expansion of services including private schools for a large, national, not-for-profit provider. On the individual level, I think it is foundational that you approach families with sensitivity and honesty. It is also important to have contemporary competencies. As we see in the newsletter frequently, there are many charlatans attempting to prey on our families. Our field continues to battle the forces of anti-science recommendations which can be tremendously confusing to families who are attempting to navigate the autism treatment world. Speaking candidly to parents, describing what you are recommending and how it will help, how it will be evaluated, and, importantly, how those recommendations can be incorporated into the family’s everyday life have proven to be effective ways to establish a dialogue and begin intervention planning.

At the systems level, I have worked with groups of families to develop both school-based and statewide services. It should not be surprising that families have very clear goals for their children and are beginning to work in larger groups to accomplish the development of service entities such as private schools and the development of statewide models of intervention and support.

The development of services and supports for persons with autism usually involves engaging and educating many who have no direct relationship to autism (e.g., legislators, funders) and some who do (e.g., other team members who may not share or agree with ABA or other evidence based approaches), but who, with some education and a spirit of collaboration, can be a considerable benefit to your project. In my experience these discussions are some of the hardest as the disability community is sharing scant resources. Defining why your school should be funded, or why your model of care should be adopted requires considerable preparation and may require a spirited defense of your approach. I’ve found that a combination of good preparation and a display of sound social skills, especially patience, can result in plans becoming realities. With respect to team members who do not share or are unaware of evidence-based treatments, but who nevertheless offer enthusiastic support for their approach, I have found it useful to encourage the use of our science to test the intervention hypotheses on which team members have yet to reach consensus. Offering to test hypotheses rather than a priori rejecting the ideas of colleagues can level the intervention “playing field” such that all team members have a shared responsibility to implement interventions with precision and use data to inform statements of outcome.

David: This is wonderful advice for anyone trying to be heard. We have been very appreciative of your extensive involvement as part of our editorial team as we look to share information with a broad audience and even more grateful that you have assumed the role as Co-Editor. What brought you to ASAT?

Vince: I’ve long followed ASAT by reading Science in Autism Treatment and have also monitored ASAT recommendations vis a vis autism intervention planning and the need for science-based programming. Over the years of working with families, I have recommended the newsletter as the content is accessible and useful to families and practitioners alike. I believe in ASAT’s mission and vision and have enjoyed the collegiality of my ASAT involvement. In my prior role as Content Editor and now as Co-Editor for the newsletter, not only do I have the opportunity to review articles of importance to the autism community but also to work with externs who are beginning in their careers as writers, reviewers, and co-editors. Technical writing and writing for publication are important professional skills, and in the editing role I can shape these skills. The newsletter has a rich history of providing professional development for emerging writers and I’m pleased to be a part of that continuing tradition.

I’ve also had a long-standing commitment to volunteerism. I have been provided so many career-enhancing opportunities including financial and mentor support, that I believe it is important to give something back. There are so many families who need help. I had the opportunity to work on Autism NJ’s board for many years and I found the work rewarding because we were helping those in New Jersey and surrounding states. My plan is to continue to attempt to give back when I have those opportunities.

David: We are very grateful that you choose us, particularly given our commitment to sharing high quality information to families with accuracy and compassion. What advice would you have for parents of newly diagnosed children?

Vince: As hard as it is for families trying to adjust to the results of an autism diagnosis, I encourage them to become knowledgeable consumers about autism interventions. I also recommend them to join with other families as much as possible for support and information exchange. If training is offered and it can include it in your schedule, take it as you can’t have enough training! When the children are moving to school programs, I think looking for programs that are built upon ABA strategies is foundational. If those services are insufficient at your local education entity, become a vocal advocate for improving services. In some cases, it may involve engaging an attorney to assist you. I also strongly suggest that families retain the services of a good special education advocate. There are so many things that occur at education planning meetings that it is difficult to assimilate all the incoming information. An advocate can serve as a translator who can navigate the language of special education, a sounding-board for the inevitable and a source of feedback regarding IEP processes. Last, never give up!

David: Never! Thank you so much for taking time from your schedule to participate in this interview, and more importantly, for all you do as a member of our Professional Advisory Board. I look forward to partnering with you in the months ahead as we publish future issues of Science in Autism Treatment.

Citation for this article:

Celiberti, D. (2020). An interview with Dr. Vincent Winterling, SIAT Co-Editor and Professional Advisory Board Member. Science in Autism Treatment 17(5).

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