One in 68 Children has Autism

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My Job as the Self-Advocate Liaison

August 3, 2015 3:00 pm Published by

This past year has been a challenging one as much as a rewarding one. When I first started working for QSAC, I did not realize the impact I would have as a self-advocate and mentor to young adults with disabilities, but as time went on, myself and others have come to understand this more and more.

Danielle Lazzara (center) pictured with other members of QSAC’s Development Department: Michelle Debisette (left) and Joseph Amodeo (right)

I realized that this learning experience was just as new to me as the individuals I was mentoring. The way I learned in this endeavor was through respect and willingness to grasp information from others, a s well as being open to replicate in return.

Advocating is a skill that has ignited the fuel of my mind, bringing out my passion and opening my heart. I learned this when I realized my true potential for this task. I’ve shared my story at numerous presentations, hoping that it influences others in my position to be greater and become better advocates. During this process, I have learned that change is a natural part of life. What would have been acquaintances have become friends and unfamiliar strangers have common bonds.

Learning my skills have made an impact on me from being a volunteer to better worker. Having rights and understanding the power of them is truly necessary such as: being aware of having choices, getting involved in healthy relationships, working and/or volunteering, having free speech, and owning up to our responsibilities. This is supported by our amendments in the Bill of Rights.

Being safe in this community is a big right for everyone. One way that I learned how to be safe in a community is by having support staff, helping me get familiar with the community and feel safer. Knowing this, I have advocated my experience in hopes that others will follow my example to feel safer in the community.

I have also attended many workshops and volunteered for many organizations such as Americore and O.P.W.D.D. I do this continuously and in my spare time to set an example for others like myself. My most valuable experience has been these connections that have brought out my true voice, and these impacts on others and those around me. I hope to continue to be a voice for many others, and I hope to help them create their own voice.


Danielle Lazzara serves as a Development Assistant in QSAC’s Development Department and as an instructor in the Self-Advocacy Training Program funded by the Long Island Unitarian Universalist Fund (LIUU Fund) of the Long Island Community Foundation. Danielle is a self-advocate and presents regularly at local and regional workshops and conferences on the topic of self-advocacy. She has been a member of QSAC’s Development Department since 2013 and writes regularly for onQ, QSAC’s blog.




Strategies for Helping Children with Autism Follow Instructions

June 29, 2015 3:00 pm Published by

Ability to follow instruction is one of the essential skills for children to be successful in everyday situations. Instruction following occurs when behavior comes under stimulus control of the instructions delivered. In other words, a child learns to follow a specific instruction, every time an instruction is given.

One possible way to establish an instruction-following repertoire is to provide a reinforcer every time a child follows an instruction correctly. Many vocal instructions that are delivered to the children also include gestures (e.g., “put your toys away” might be accompanied by the parent handing a child a toy) or other visual stimuli (e.g., “open the door” always occurs when a child is in front of a closed door). These cues interfere with the acquisition of an instruction-following repertoire for some children (Sy, Donaldson, Vollmer, & Pizarro, 2014). In these examples when gestures (or task related objects) are present along with the instruction, a child may respond to the other irrelevant stimuli rather than a vocal instruction. Responding to irrelevant environmental cues is an example of stimulus over-selectivity, or the tendency to respond to only one aspect of the environment while ignoring all other aspects (Dickson, Deutsch, Wang, & Dube, 2006). This phenomenon tends to occur with individuals that are on the Autism spectrum and might contribute to the fact that these individuals often have difficulty following instructions from different people and in different settings.

Professionals and parents should consider some proactive strategies to reduce the chance that individuals will respond to extra environmental stimuli instead of intended instruction.

Research has shown that the treatment of skill deficits related to following an instruction, should include a combination of prompting, reinforcement, and multiple-exemplar training. Multiple-exemplar training for this skill includes varying the objects present when an instruction is delivered by removing relevant objects (the ones used to follow an instruction) or including irrelevant objects (the ones not required to follow an instruction) to prevent relevant objects from gaining stimulus control over instruction following. Making these manipulations can ensure that instructions will continue to be followed even when relevant objects are not present or irrelevant objects are present. Another important factor is to vary instruction in the presence of the same objects (e.g., in one instruction, child is asked to roll the ball; in another, to put the ball in the box).

In summary, it is important to vary the instructions delivered and the instructional context in order for that instruction following to come under stimulus control of the instructions. Arranging the learning environment by taking the above mentioned factors into consideration may help with efficient skill mastery and generalization in the natural environment.

NSAVICNevena Savic, M.A., LMFT, BCBA serves as QSAC’s Assistant Director of Family Education and Training. Prior to her current role, Nevena served as the Assistant Clinical Director for Adult Services at QSAC. She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), a New York State Licensed Behavior Analyst, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

Dickson, C. A., Deutsch, C. K.,Wang, S. S.,& Dube,W. V. (2006). Matching-to-sample assessment of stimulus over-selectivity in students with intellectual disabilities. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 111, 447–453.

Sy, J. R., Donaldson, J. M., Vollmer, T. R., Pizarro, E. (2014). An evaluation of factors that influence children’s instruction following. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 101–112.

Battling the winter blues? How visual supports can help!

February 16, 2015 3:00 pm Published by

It’s the dead of winter and for those of you living in the Northeast in particular, it’s been one winter! During these long, cold days it’s a good idea to have a snow day plan for you and your child with special needs. Consider the use of schedules and visual supports to help both YOU and your child when inclement weather keeps you indoors.  A basic schedule would include some of the things that need to get done paired with things you know your child would like to do. Set up your schedule so the fun activity follows the “chore”.  For example “First we brush our teeth”, then we “_______” (fill in fun activity here).  If your child reads he/she or you can write this out. If your child is better with pictures, it can look like this.  The picture of the activity can be drawn, copied, pasted etc in the corresponding box.






If you have an older child or a child that can manage a longer list, try a checklist. You can add a sticker, smiley face etc once each task is completed.   Here is an example.




In November, QSAC released a free ibook specifically designed to support families.  In this engaging, interactive ibook, Chapter 3 is dedicated to helping families manage home life specifically through the use of visual supports.  There are many examples of visuals in the chapter,  as well as apps and websites to help you organize the worst of snow days.  If you have an Apple computer or Ipad click to download for free


Don’t have an Ipad?  No worries.  Check out another great website with FREE printable resources such as calendars, sticker and job charts is


Take a deep breath…. winter can’t last forever.  In the meantime use these free resources to help get you through those snow days.  Chances are you will keep them in place because they really do help.




New Resource for Parents of Children with Autism

December 11, 2014 5:11 pm Published by

Receiving a diagnosis of Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is a life altering event; a family’s hopes, dreams and aspirations for their child come crashing to a halt with those few words. Working in a preschool program we see families in varying states of understanding, acceptance and yes denial of this difficult news. This spring, QSAC received an anonymous grant to create a resource for just those families.

unnamedThrough this grant I had to the opportunity to work with Melissa Peltz to create a multi-touch, interactive ebook, published on the iBooks Store.  This ebook incorporates curated apps, videos, and interactive content that highlights topics families told us were important. These resources are meant to provide support for families who might be waiting to receive services or to supplement existing services.


Throughout the book, practical tips and solutions are provided in family-friendly language and cover topics including: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), assessment and intervention (important before beginning any teaching program), home routines, socialization, functional communication, pre-academic/academic skills, and managing problem behaviors.

 The book was launched in November and is free on the iBooks Store. We hope that you take a look, find utility in it and share it.

You can find it here:

A Self-Advocate’s Story

January 31, 2014 9:34 am Published by

Danielle LazzaraHello! My name is Danielle and I am an intern at QSAC’s headquarters in New York City in the Development Department. As a woman on the autism spectrum, I have overcome many things in my life and I am currently involved in getting a Consolidated Self-Directed Services plan through the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). When I first graduated from high school, the thought of living alone never crossed my mind. I was living with my family and longed for more independence, but knew I would need help and resources from others. On my own, I worked with lawyers and self-advocates to establish my Social Security and Medicaid eligibility and researched and selected an appropriate supportive living situation. I learned about my rights and responsibilities as a person with autism.

After many years of living arrangements that were not ideal for me, I finally found something that was almost perfect for me: my own apartment in a nice neighborhood working with staff I liked. I had independence and financial freedom. After a few years of inconsistent staff and some frustration, I have decided to pursue a Consolidated Self-Directed Services plan so I can have more say in my everyday life. With this new plan, I will have the freedom to select my own support staff and choose how I spend my time and money.

Twenty years ago, this type of decision would not have been possible because these types of independent living services did not exist. I am very grateful that I have this decision to make. People with disabilities have choices and can make their own decisions! Even the wrong ones! Find out what services are appropriate and available for you or your loved one, because everyone deserves a fair shot at a happy and fulfilling life.

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Danielle Lazzara is a lifelong New Yorker who is an actively involved self-advocate who works to ensure that individuals with disabilities know their rights and have access to supportive services. She is an intern in QSAC’s Development Department through the JobPath employment training program (ETP).


QSAC is a New York City and Long Island based nonprofit that supports children and adults with autism, together with their families, in achieving greater independence, realizing their future potential, and contributing to their communities in a meaningful way by offering person-centered services.

QSAC pursues this mission through direct services that provide a supportive and individualized setting for children and adults with autism to improve their communication, socialization, academic, and functional skills.