Community Conversations: An Interview with Dr. Jack Scott, the Founder and Executive Director of FAU CARD (Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities)
Dr. Jack Scott is the founder and executive director of the Florida Atlantic University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (here), who is also my friend. He is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education and teaches courses on autism, inclusion, and behavior analysis. Dr. Scott received his doctoral degree from the University of Florida. His most recent book, Safeguarding Your Child with Autism, (on Amazon, here: https://www.amazon.com/Safeguarding-Your-Child-Autism-Strategies/dp/1606130056) is published by Woodbine and provides a toolkit for parents to reduce risks their child with autism will face.
Dr. Scott has research interests in individualized instruction, suicide prevention for autistic people, police training and elopement prevention. He also has several grants examining the rates of participation by African American children in school autism programs and for educating parents of newly identified children with autism. As a behavior analyst, he is active in linking behavioral analysts with emerging issues in safety and autism. He serves on the boards of several charter schools and as chair of the Panel of Professional Advisors and as a board member for the Autism Society of America.
He has helped many people and families. It is my honor to introduce you to him now. Without further ado, here is the link to FAU CARD (https://www.fau.edu/education/centersandprograms/card/) and our interview:
What was your early life and education like? Have you always wanted to do psychology? Was your personal journey a linear path? What obstacles did you face?
I grew up on Long Island. I enjoyed school quite a bit. I had no intention of studying psychology in the beginning. I intended for marine biology instead. I studied history at the State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland, and graduated with a degree in American History.
Later, I found a job with Eckerd Wilderness Camps in Florida, a therapeutic environment for children with social and emotional problems. I worked for them for 10 years and really enjoyed the outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing and even rafted down the Mississippi River with a group of 10 boys for 8 weeks. We canoed many rivers in the Southeastern United States. This job funded my Masters Degree at the University of West Florida. They gave me a sabbatical to finish the program.
However, my biggest obstacles to getting a PhD were funding and time. There were no part-time options for furthering my education in UWF back then, so I applied for the University of Florida, and the rest became history.
How did you first get involved with the autism community?
My mentor at the University of Florida – Dr. Bill Wolking – and he worked with children with autism in the 1960s, and he saw the potential benefits of using applied behavior analysis to help children with autism . My experiences with Dr. Wolking pointed me down the path of ABA and autism. During my doctorate program, my assignment involved supervising students who were working with children with autism, and children with serious behavior problems and arranging specialized instruction for children included in regular classes.
In 1991 I came to FAU. At that time, several community members and parents reached out to me to help them and their children with autism. This if found different from some of the families of children with emotional and behavioral problems I had previously worked with. It was often difficult to establish partnerships and smooth working relations with the parents of those children. However, the parents of the of children with autism were much more eager to work in a cooperative manner and I found that very positive. I then found autism incredibly interesting, especially when it comes to sorting out fact from fiction and still find it amazingly interesting today.
You are the Founder and Executive Director of FAU CARD. What brought you to FAU and how did you create the CARD program there? What was the process like?
I spent 1 year as a visiting professor at UF. I spent 2 years at USF (University of South Florida). I looked to stay in Florida because my wife and my parents and most of my family lived there. I found a job at FAU as a regular assistant professor in special education.
By the time I had arrived at FAU in 1990, CARD itself had just been formed statewide. There were originally 4 centers at CARD, but by 1996 two more had been added – UF CARD (Jacksonville), UCF CARD (Orlando). I saw the need for a CARD for the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast region and I worked to make it happen.
FAU CARD began as a satellite of the University of Miami (UM). We were somewhat autonomous, and had our own budget and expenses. Originally, Palm Beach County was served by University of Miami CARD and the Treasure Coast by the University of South Florida CARD. However, they were too far away for this to be practical. Once this became apparent, I assembled data on regional autism service needs and worked with parents and legislators. I wrote many reports to establish this new autonomous FAU CARD. This campaign ran for several years and by 2010 FAU CARD was formally established.
Now, we have a total of three offices, one in Boca Raton, one at FAU Jupiter and one at Indian River State College in Port St Lucie with a total of 22 staff.
What are the favorite parts of your job?
#1: Meeting people with autism and parents and learning from them and about their personal experiences with autism
#2: Helping them identify their needs and putting them into programs and services that help them
#3: I like researching autism – including autism and COVID-19 and issues involving and addressing suicide prevention and safety for children with autism.
Tell us about your newest book, “Safeguarding Your Child with Autism” (https://www.amazon.com/Safeguarding-Your-Child-Autism-Strategies/dp/1606130056). What is it like to be both an author and a scientist? What was the writing process like? What was the goal for the book? Who is your target audience and what do you want people to know about it?
#1. I put a lot into this book. I’m excited. There had never been a book like this – a comprehensive book for parents and teachers to become aware of ways to protect children with autism, and how to work more easily with them. It’s the first of its kind!
#2: I worked with Bairbre Flood and collaborated with Toby Honsberger and Kyle Bennett on a portion of it and with Dennis Debbaudt who wrote about safety and ways to improve police interactions. I wrote quite a bit of the book, and it was very difficult because it covered a such a wide-ranging topic.
#3: I did not want to scare parents, but I needed to inform them and connect them to better options and care and urge them to plan ahead for emergencies, like teaching children how to swim and properly lock doors and how to fence in pools to prevent drowning deaths. As of now, about 10% of child drownings in Florida are children with autism. It is probably in actuality much worse than that because there are poor death records for drowned children. It is also a radical disparity because the majority of children do not have autism, and yet a large proportion child drownings involve children with autism.
Based on your experiences and research, what do you want people to know about autism, especially when it comes to inclusion?
We must look for common ground instead of isolation. Focus on strengths and commonalities instead of publicly pointing out challenges and deficits.
I want people to realize that people with autism are not much different from other people. They are competent in many areas and have difficulty in other areas – but so are all people, really. It is important to connect all people to others who bring out the best in them.
The most important thing is to end the barriers, and let people be themselves, and let people with autism interact freely with everybody else.
What do you do for fun? Do you have any hobbies? What are your favorite books, movies, plays, songs, and TV shows?
I like to garden, ride bicycles, and listen to music. I like reading, and I love history!
What are your proudest accomplishments?
First of all, my wife and son, and our strong family. Next, my book, “Safeguarding Your Child with Autism” (https://www.amazon.com/Safeguarding-Your-Child-Autism-Strategies/dp/1606130056). Also, FAU CARD – the people whom I serve as well as the people I work with. Finally – being the Chair of the Panel of Professional Advisors for the Autism Society of America. The members of the Panel and the Autism Society are highly committed to helping people with autism and they are some of the some of the most dedicated and caring people I have every met.
Who are your heroes and role models? Whom would you like to acknowledge/shoutout/promote/thank for their involvement in your life and how they helped you get to where you are today?
#1. My parents – my Dad was a NYC firefighter and a WWII paratrooper. My Mom devoted her life to taking care of our family as a loving wife and mother.
#2: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He was our most physically handicapped president and along with Washington and Lincoln our best.
#3: Abraham Lincoln. He was such a determined person and he worked tirelessly to hold the country together and end slavery.
INTERVIEWER’S CLOSING NOTES FOR THE READERS
Thank you for your time and readership. I hope you enjoyed this interview. There will be more interviews with more people to come in the near future. Have a great day!