April: Autism Awareness Month




All Lecture Series presentations are being held from 7-9 p.m. in the Lecture Hall at DDI’s Hollywood Drive Campus, 99 Hollywood Drive, Smithtown, NY.  Space is limited for free lectures; anyone interested should call 631-366-5875 to register.


April 9th       

New Directions in Understanding and Supporting Social Competence on the Autism Spectrum


Matthew D. Lerner, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, & Pediatrics
Director, Social Competence & Treatment Lab
Stony Brook University



Dr. Lerner will provide a brief history and overview of interventions designed to address social challenges among school-age and teenage youth with ASD. He will introduce the concept of “therapeutic mechanisms” and describe what types of treatments may work best and for which individuals. Finally, he will knit these insights together by presenting research emerging from Stony Brook University’s Social Competence and Treatment Lab.

Dr. Lerner’s research focuses on “real world” implications of social problems in children and adolescents (especially those with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders [ASD]). He has published more than 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders and Behavior Therapy, and as Co-Chair of the Autism Spectrum & Developmental Disabilities Special Interest Group at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.


April 23rd

 Beyond Vaccines: How New Approaches in Genetics and Neuroscience are Transforming Our Understanding of Autism


Alan Packer, Ph.D.

Senior Scientist at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI


A number of large studies have failed to turn up any evidence in support of a connection between vaccinations and autism. Unfortunately, the attention paid to this issue, has detracted from the substantial progress that has been made of late.  Most importantly, we have learned that susceptibility to autism has a significant genetic component.


Dr.  Packer’s presentation will discuss how new findings related to the genetic causes of autism are informing and driving the research agenda. It will look at how the fetal brain might be affected both by genetic and environmental risk factors. Changes in brain development are beginning to be modeled successfully in experimental animals, providing opportunities for a deeper understanding of how autism develops.


This presentation will also include a discussion of exciting new research on the development of very young children known to be at higher risk of autism. It is hoped that these findings will lead to much earlier diagnosis and more successful interventions. Finally, Dr. Packer will outline a new initiative by the Simons Foundation to recruit up to 50,000 individuals on the autism spectrum to participate in this research.



Alan Packer, Ph.D. is Senior Scientist at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), the largest private funder of research on autism spectrum disorders in the United States. Since joining SFARI in 2009 he has been part of a team working to oversee a portfolio of grants to scientists working on all aspects of autism research, with an emphasis on the genetic basis of the disorder. Prior to joining SFARI he spent eight years as an editor at the journal Nature Genetics, and is currently on the advisory board of the journal Science Translational Medicine. He writes about the latest findings in autism research for SFARI.org.





Developmental Disabilities Institute

99 Hollywood Drive

Smithtown, NY  11787




From Eastern Long Island:  LIE to Exit 55, make right on Motor Parkway. Continue about 200 ft. and bare right onto Old Willets Path.  Continue on Old Willets Path for approximately 2 miles, and then cross over Jericho Turnpike.  Old Willets Path now changes to Plymouth Blvd.  Go to the first stop sign and make a left onto Parnell Drive.  Make the next left onto Hollywood Drive.  The campus is at the end of the block. 


From Western Long Island:  LIE to Exit 55, make left onto Motor Parkway. Go over LIE bridge and proceed about 200 ft. and bare right onto Old Willets Path.  Follow directions above.


*Presentation in DDI’s Public Education (Lecture) Series does not in and of itself constitute or imply DDI’s recommendation or endorsement. DDI’s Public Education Series is intended only to provide the public with presentations related to the larger issue of Developmental Disability that are thought provoking, interesting and timely

We are proud to announce DDI’s Spring 2015 Film Forum!DDI staff and the entire community of movie lovers can look forward to more topical, engaging, award winning films than ever!  Each film deals with the challenges of facing life with a disability.  The season’s offerings will include some shorts and foreign language entries.  Presentations are, as always, FREE and will be held on the last Thursday of each month in the Smithtown Hollywood Drive Lecture Hall from 7 to 9pm.


Following each film, a discussion will be facilitated by the person(s) who recommended it to the forum. Film themes will cover issues of first time independence, devastating misdiagnosis, abandonment, isolation and transcendence.


The goal remains the same: to provide entertainment and information while exploring issues faced by individuals with disabilities.

*** Refreshments will be served.


Our first 6 selections ( with trailers) are as follows:


1/29: The Station AgentThe Station Agent Trailer

2/26My Flesh and Blood My Flesh and Blood Trailer

3/26: Refrigerator MothersRefrigerator Mothers Trailer

4:30 Wretches and JabberersWretches and Jabberers Trailer

5/28The Collector of Bedford Street The Collector of Bedford Street Trailer

6/25The Color of Paradise The Color of Paradise Trailer


A synopsis for each of the above films can be found (along with films planned for the latter part of 2015) in the attached overview.  Films are indexed alphabetically.



* Please call Dr. Michael Romas at 631-366-5875 for a detailed description of each film - and be sure to RSVP.


DDI will be dancing for a cause-Autism.  Adults served by DDI are partnering up with students of Vic D’Amore’s American Studio of Performing Arts for the fourth year to produce “Dancing for Autism” on Friday, May 15th at the Kings Park High School Auditorium. Tickets will be sold at $10 general admission or $5 for senior citizens and children under 12 to benefit DDI’s Adult Day Program. Raffles will also be available.


Dancers will take to the stage with numerous acts including tap dancing, freestyle dance, and Irish step pieces.  The dance program originated with two devoted DDI staff members whose determination and passion to bring the arts to the adults served by DDI culminated with this very special collaboration with Vic’s studio.


DDI’s Day Programs serve adults with developmental disabilities and autism at seven locations throughout Suffolk County.  Day programs assist adults served by DDI with education, personal skills development, recreation and job training services to help prepare each individual to become productive members of the community in which they reside.


“I would like to acknowledge the entire Adult Day Recreation Program recreation staff for putting on this unique and entertaining event to showcase the abilities of the people we serve,” commented John Lessard, DDI’s Executive Director.   “It is an exciting process to watch the collaboration between DDI and Vic D’Amore’s Dance studio and the sheer enjoyment of everyone involved.  I encourage everyone reading this to come out and support all of the performers.”


For further information or to order tickets, please contact the Recreation Department at (631) 360-4641 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


DDI and its Starting Early Program were the beneficiaries of some much needed help from a group of 10 volunteers courtesy of Goldman Sachs.  On July 11th, volunteers spent the day greatly improving the aesthetics and creating an attractive gateway into the new “Busy Town” playground. 


Rob Martin, a Goldman Sachs employee and parent of a child enrolled in the Starting Early Program, helped organize the beautification program as a “Community Team Works Project.”  “Our group from Goldman Sachs was delighted to assist in this effort on behalf of DDI,” commented Martin.  “It was the source of tremendous fulfillment for each of us when we saw the finished product and more importantly, the students playing in this beautiful environment.”


The work was completed at DDI’s Little Plains campus, which serves approximately 300 children with autism and other developmental disabilities.  From infant to five-years old, DDI’s Starting Early Programprovides superior educational and therapeutic services for children who present with developmental delays. DDI graduates over 92% to their home school district kindergarten programs.


Goldman Sachs volunteers spent the day planting shrubs and flowers to enhance the look of the new playground.    Students entertained the volunteers by singing some graduation songs to show their appreciation.  “The staff and students are so thankful for all the hard work that the Goldman Sachs volunteers did to make "Busy Town" a delightful and colorful place to play and enjoy,” commented Michelle Lawrence, Education Behavior Specialist for DDI.

Alternative Augmentative Communication (AAC) is a great tool to help our individuals with moderate to severe language impairments. Many individuals are now coming to us with iPads with language software on their devices. Many times parents or caregivers have heard of the “miracles” that can happen when using iPads and will jump right in and buy an expensive language application, hoping they will be able to use it right out of the box, which we all know rarely happens.  AAC therapy is generally geared for individuals who may have severe to profound apraxia, autism, aphasia, Down syndrome, or very young children who are not producing any intelligible utterances. The most popular AAC apps that are language based are Proloquo2go and Touch Chat.


The most important thing to remember when using these types of apps is to see if the individual understands basic cause and effect. Generally when working with a new individual, I will choose a page where their specific item is listed (if is not on the page, I will edit the page and add it). One of the icons will be a specific reinforcer that the individual wants. Try to choose something that you have direct access to. This could be a short movie or song (that could play for a short time), drink, food, etc… Be careful if it is something the individual wants to hold or use, because if they choose the icon for their preferred item, and they use it for 10-15 seconds, you will then need to take it from them in the hopes that they will learn to request it again. Many individuals may exhibit behaviors and will not give you their preferred item back and possibly have a temper tantrum, engage in aggression or self-injuring behavior. Always use a reinforcer that you have direct access to.


When determining cause and effect, I will generally show the individual whatever item they are trying to obtain (food, drinks, preferred movie clip etc…). For this example, I will be discussing the basic communication vocabulary on Proloquo2go. From the home page, I will click on the food icon and the individual will be presented with various food icons to choose from.  I will then say “look, here are the chips” while pointing to it on the screen, as well as having the actual potato chips in their field of vision. I would then say “If you want the chips, point to it” while giving them a gestural prompt, pointing to the icon on their iPad. Note the prompt level it took for the individual to ask for the item. I would repeat this until the individual shows mastery of requesting the chips (8-10 trials with over 80% accuracy). After mastering the chips, I would work on seeing if they are able to locate any other edible icons on the page and will ask “If you want cookies, show me”.


Once they are able to do this, I would then work on categorization. I would go back to the home page and show the steps it will take to ask for chips. “First, we press food, and then we press chips”. This is a hard step for our individuals but it opens the door to see if they understand the basic concepts of choosing icons that are not in their immediate field of vision. If they are able to do this successfully, you can move on to other reinforcers they can try and obtain (drinks, preferred places to visit, etc…).  Learning how to link is very important. Don’t rush ahead and add more pictures until your individual can successfully link between 2 pages. If the individual can’t understand links and continues to show frustration, you may need to make a custom board with just the images they wish to request without category folders or go with something more low-tech ( PECS, communication books, etc…)


AAC is a great tool to help individuals be able to express themselves. As our individuals become more comfortable using AAC, they will hopefully become more compliant throughout the day. This can lead to a decrease in their overall frustrations, and allowing for more skilled intervention to occur, which may increase their overall language skills. 


If you have any quesions about Alternative Augmentative Communication you can contact Steve Rossi here.