Interview with Mary Beth Walsh, PhD Conducted by Josh Pritchard, MS, BCBA
Q: What got you involved with ASAT?
A: I joined the ASAT Board of Directors in the fall of 2006, recruited to the cause by a behavior analyst who had worked with my younger son who has autism. However, I knew of the organization for years before hand, and used to receive and enjoy the old newsletter. As a long time parent-advocate of effective intervention, I’ve directed many parents to the ASAT website, in particular our Research Summaries on Autism Treatments, and was glad to be able to volunteer with the Website Committee.
Q: What line of work did/do you do and how does it relate to the ASAT Mission?
A: I teach in a graduate program in Roman Catholic pastoral ministry, and hold a doctorate in theology and ethics. This may seem to some to have little to do with ASAT’s mission; however, to my mind, the right of individuals to effective intervention and treatment, and the rights of parents to accurate information based on science are both deeply ethical issues. In addition to being an advocate of science-based intervention for individuals with autism, I also advocate for the inclusion of individuals with autism in communities of faith, and have co-edited a resource booklet, Autism and Faith: A Journey into Community
Q: What experience do you have with autism treatment? How do you think ASAT can help with that?
A: When my son was diagnosed, I was very lucky to make contact with a gifted and kind behavior analyst (Dr. Sharon Reeve, BCBA-D, of ASAT’s Advisory Board) who helped me educate myself about autism treatment and science, and who, more importantly, helped my son tremendously and set our whole family on the right path. But over the last eight years I’ve come to realize my family’s story is extremely unusual. Where we live in New Jersey, we are lucky to have a lot of supports, from a respected advocacy organization committed to science, Autism NJ to some excellent evidence-based schools for children with autism, and including great graduate programs that train teachers in science-based intervention for autism. This abundance of resources is not the norm. It’s my personal belief that those of us who have been able to access excellent services for our children have an obligation to help other parents.
As Chair of the ASAT Website Committee, I am privileged to be able to read and respond to the emails that come into the firstname.lastname@example.org account from parents around the globe, and I know that most families have a much harder time finding evidence-based treatment for autism, or even getting to see what this looks like in real life. At ASAT we receive emails from parents in Oman, Bangladesh, and Brazil, and I am always struck by the tremendous lengths parents are willing to go to in pursuit of effective intervention. Too often the scarcity of science-based intervention for children with autism fuels parental desperation for “anything that works” and allows for the proliferation of quack-based interventions and opportunists willing to prey on vulnerable families, especially during the early, confusing, anxiety-filled years immediately post-diagnosis. Reading the emails we receive at ASAT always recommits me to our mission to provide accurate information about the science behind proposed autism treatments, and to work to increase access to effective, evidence-based interventions for all individuals with ASDs.