Community Conversations: An Interview with Dr. Erin Brooker Lozott, Foundation Program Director at the Els for Autism Foundation®
I have known Erin for more than 5 years, and I have only good things to say about her. She’s an authentically kind, altruistic, and devoted person, who consistently puts the needs of her community first. She has an amazing story and a storied career that has improved the lives of so many people, especially the individuals and families who seek her help through the Els for Autism Foundation®.
Her story is truly special because she has worked alongside Dr. Marlene Sotelo, Dr. Michael Alessandri, and Merrick Egber – distinguished people whom I have previously interviewed over the past two months. She is an inspiration, and this interview is the best one I have had so far. It’s a small world, and it’s truly exciting to see how collaborations and friendships can change the trajectory of one’s life.
I am grateful to have the rare opportunity to interview Dr. Brooker Lozott and learn from her wisdom and experiences. She is a leader and a trailblazer and a pillar of South Florida’s autism community, and I am extremely proud to call her a friend. I am certain that you will like her too after reading this article.
At the end of this interview are links to her publications. For her full background, you can find it on the Els for Autism® website right here: https://www.elsforautism.org/team/erin-brooker-lozott/
Without further ado, here is our conversation!
Erin Brooker Lozott, Ed.D., BCBA-D, CCC-SLP, is the Els for Autism Foundation Program Director. She has been working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and related disabilities across ages and settings for over 25 years. Erin is a doctoral-level, board-certified behavior analyst and a licensed and certified Speech-Language Pathologist. Before joining the Els for Autism Foundation staff, Erin worked for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta-Marcus Autism Center as the Community Interventionist Manager, participating in research and educational outreach community-based projects. Erin has co-authored several publications on autism spectrum disorder topics, and she has presented and consulted extensively on a national and international level. She is an appointed member of both a scientific advisory committee and a clinical excellence committee for international autism organizations. Erin has her doctorate in special education, focusing on applied behavior analysis, from Nova Southeastern University, in Davie, Florida.
Questions for Erin Brooker Lozott
What was your education like? How did you get started at the Els for Autism Foundation? Was it a linear path? If not, what was your personal journey like?
I started as an undergraduate student at UCF, studying physical therapy. About 3 weeks into it, I took an applied health class with Dr. Mullins, who spoke about speech-language pathology. There was something about Dr. Mullin’s that caught my attention and learning about the field of speech-language pathology fascinated me. In the third week of my freshman year of college, I changed my major from physical therapy to Communicative Sciences and Disorders and never looked back.
After that, everything was linear. I graduated from UCF with a bachelor’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders and then graduated with a master’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders from Nova Southeastern University. To become a speech-language pathologist, I needed a master’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders, or now what is more readily called speech-language pathology, in addition to completing a clinical fellowship year prior to earning a professional license. During the initial portion of my graduate work, I wanted to work with adults with motor speech disorders, so I could help people with Parkinson’s Disease. However, upon beginning my clinical rounds at Nova, I was assigned an incredible clinical supervisor, Dr. Robin Parker. Dr. Parker introduced me to the world of autism spectrum disorder and from there helped me become the professional I am today as my work with her allowed me to meet a young girl with autism who changed my life. Dr. Carole Zangari was also a significant professor who guided my knowledge and skill not only in the field of autism but also in the field of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and further provided me the foundation necessary to have a successful career.
During this same time, I was working as a bachelor’s level speech-language pathologist in Broward County Schools. It was there I met and worked to support a 5-year-old boy who no one seemed to understand how to help. I collaborated with our school psychologist and soon identified that he had Asperger’s syndrome. This discovery led to us developing a plan of care matching his needs, ensuring a successful kindergarten year. As Asperger’s Syndrome was not a readily used diagnosis for young children at this time, there was limited understanding and access to services. My life was changed for the better, once again, due to knowing someone with autism. This young boy taught me more than I could imagine about hard work, embracing differences, and having diligence, all things necessary for success.
I became fascinated and inspired, and from this time on, I knew I wanted to focus all my energies on learning how to be the best clinician I could be in the field of autism. I then sought out every opportunity possible to work with and learn from people with autism and highly regarded professionals in the field. This is how I gained the opportunity to complete a practicum experience and later gain employment at Miami Children’s Hospital, Dan Marino Center in Weston, Florida.
There my life and career blossomed. I met and was mentored by Dr. Michael Alessandri and Dr. Marlene Sotelo. I also met Erica Grub, an incredible speech-language pathologist, all of whom are now revered, colleagues and friends. Not only did I gain incredible experience and work with the best professionals, but I also began traveling internationally to support individuals with autism, their families, and the professionals who take care of them. International autism consulting is one of the most rewarding parts of my life and career.
I moved to Central Florida a few years into my career to work for UCF CARD in Orlando. Working at UCF-CARD was a gift as the experience helped me expand my knowledge of autism and skill set far beyond that of a speech-language pathologist. After moving on from CARD, I started a speech-language private practice supporting individuals with autism across age ranges while also continuing to travel internationally with Alessandri & Associates, LLC.
In 2012, I moved to Atlanta to pursue a career in autism research at the Marcus Autism Center. Another place where I had the opportunity to work with inspirational leaders in the field of autism, such as Dr. Ami Klin, Dr. Celine Saulnier, and Dr. Cheryl Klaiman, who I am now lucky enough to call my friends.
While at Marcus, I had the pleasure of leading a tour that Dr. Marlene Sotelo and Mrs. Liezl Els took while working to build The Els Center of Excellence®. This was the day that led to me moving back home to Florida and beginning my now seven-year journey at Els for Autism Foundation®. Working with Marlene and our highly qualified team at the Foundation has afforded me multiple opportunities to expand my skills allowing me to continue my path of always striving to be the best clinician and the best person I can be when working with people with autism.
To ensure I continued my learning, never settling for the status quo, I pursued and completed my doctorate degree in Special Education in August of 2021 and then became a Doctoral level Board Certified Behavior Analyst this past March with Marlene, once again, by my side as a lifeline of support, guidance, and mentorship throughout the process. It always amazes me how you never realize when you meet someone how they may impact your life later. Dr. Carole Zangari is one of those people. She went from helping me gain the skills I needed to begin my career to becoming my doctoral dissertation chair. guiding me throughout my entire doctorate experience. My life and career have been blessed with some of the greatest minds and kindest people in the world. I found that my earliest connections have come full circle. All the people I met at the beginning of my education and career are now like family. Over the past 26 years, each of the people mentioned, and all the experiences I have had, have shaped who I am both personally and professionally. I couldn’t be more grateful.
What are your guiding principles?
- People with autism are people first and should always be valued and respected
- Everybody inherently deserves dignity, kindness, and compassion
- Always give 110% of your effort while working
- Remember that people with autism are often the smartest people in the room
- Always presume potential
- Having great expectations for the people you work with is the greatest gift you can give someone
- Remember communication is more than words. Behavior is communication and communication is behavior
You’re also a scientist and a speech-language pathologist, and you are currently the Els for Autism Foundation Program Director. What projects are you currently working on?
I oversee all programs and services, for individuals across the lifespan.
What is your favorite part of your job at the Els for Autism Foundation?
- Interacting with people who have autism
- Being able to teach people how to work with individuals with autism, always in a manner that makes the person with autism feel respected
Based on your experiences, what do you want people to know about autism?
I want professionals to understand and know that people with autism have great strengths and abilities. People with autism should be celebrated for their unique qualities, respected, included, embraced, and supported. Help protect a person with autism’s dignity and ensure people with autism have a voice and are heard. Build friendships with people with autism when you can. Remember that normal was historically never a compliment. Words like smart, creative, funny, eccentric, and incredible are compliments and all qualities that describe a person with autism. Remember different is not only ok but also excellent. Normal is overrated!
What do you do for fun? Do you have any hobbies?
- Going outdoors, such as visiting beaches
- Spending time with family and friends
- Watching movies
- Riding on boats
- Eating delicious Italian and Cuban food
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Completing my doctorate degree and being the best mom I can be to my daughter.
What are your plans/ambitions/aspirations/goals/visions for the future, professional or otherwise?
- Making sure that professionals learn how to better diagnose and intervene with females with autism
- Provide and expand support for mental health issues co-morbid with autism spectrum disorder
- I aspire to build a network of highly qualified professionals around to help support and take care of people with autism and their families
Who else 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?
- My family
- My lifelong best friends
- All my mentors, colleagues, and friends mentioned throughout this interview.
Rouhandeh, A.A., Honsberger, C., Shanok, N.A. et al. Brief Report: Assessment of a Caregiver-Implemented Intervention for Improving Social Communication Skills in Toddlers and Young Children with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-022-05587-y
Brooker Lozott, Erin (2021). (Publication No. 28721057) [Nova Southeastern University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global. Online Training to Improve Job Coaches’ Support of Minimally Verbal and Nonverbal Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Shanok, N., Brooker Lozott, E., Sotelo, M., & Bearss, K. (2021). Community-based parent-training for disruptive behaviors in children with ASD using synchronous telehealth services: A pilot study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 88, 101861. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2021.101861
Brooker Lozott, E. & Schwartz, J.B., (2011). Diego, A school-aged child with an autism spectrum disorder. In Chabon, S. S. & Cohn, E. R. (Eds.), The Communication Disorders Casebook Learning By Example (pp.215-221). New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.
Perkins, S. & Brooker Lozott, E., (2010). Joint attention as a primary target of intervention in a young child with ASD. EBP Briefs, 4, 53-59
Mitchell, S., Hardie, S., Lozott, E., Sotelo, M., & Alessandri, M. (August 2009). Strategies for Successful Supported Inclusion for a Student with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Case Study. Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2009. Sydney, Australia.
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!