Research and Change

Emily received a Master’s Degree in Special Education with distinction at California State University, Northridge in 2007. She was the Nathan O. Freedman Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year, an honor reserved for a single master’s candidate. Emily also earned a post-master’s specialization certificate in Educational Therapy.

  • Emily’s thesis, Half a Chance is Not Enough- Obstacles Faced by Latina Mothers of Children with Autism (2007) was the largest study to date on this topic and asked Latina Mothers about the challenges they personally experienced after the diagnosis of their child.
  • While earning a Master’s Degree, Emily also did an independent study of the issue of Reading Comprehension and Autism. Her research on the topic was the foundation for the book Drawing A Blank, now considered the go-to resource on this topic (Autism Asperger Publishing Company, 2011).
  • Emily and her son Tom are exploring evidence-based and promising practices for the transition to adulthood in their new book Come to Life.

You can read more about these three topics below.

Autism in the Latino Community

When Emily learned that Latino or Hispanic children with autism have less of a chance of being identified and served in the education system than children of other ethnicities, she wanted to know why. This became the central question for her Master’s degree in Special Education at California State University, Northridge, where she conducted the largest original study to date on the Obstacles Faced by Latina Mothers of Children with Autism. Findings were shared in a scholarly article and several researchers have replicated or expanded on the study. Other researchers in different part of the world have requested permission to use the survey measures she designed for the study in their own investigations. (Click here to request a pdf copy of the complete unpublished thesis.)

Emily’s work in this area and leadership in the California Blue Ribbon and Senate Select Committees on Autism inspired her mentor and thesis chairman. Dr. Ivor Weiner nominated Emily for the Nathan O. Friedman Outstanding Graduate Student of the Year award, which she won in 2007. The search for solutions also inspired Dr. Ivor Weiner of the Family Focus Resource and Empowerment Center at California State University Northridge, to create an innovative mobile screening program that brings child development and autism screenings in Spanish to Latino communities. (

Emily since collaborated on educational outreach programs for the Latino community with partners including the Waisman Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Emily co-authored an original educational manual called By Understanding Autism, I Can Better Understand My Child. Topics ranging from understanding autism, to advocacy, to interacting more successfully with the child. Emily was actively involved in the pilot program to train experienced Latina mothers of children with autism (promotoras) to deliver the curriculum to parents of newly diagnosed children with autism. Emily is currently assisting principal investigator Dr. Sandy Magana with related project, a new randomized, controlled study called Parents Taking Action (PTA) to measure the effectiveness of the promotora model.

Recognized as a leader in this area, Emily was invited to be a member of the California Senate Select Committee Taskforce on Equity and Diversity in 2012. She assisted in developing policy recommendations to promote equity for underserved communities and develop cultural competencies for staff working with diverse families in the Developmental Disabilities System.

Click here to learn more about parent education programs and cultural competence training that Emily offers related to her research in this area.

Reading Comprehension and Autism

Emily also does extensive investigation when writing her books. While simultaneously writing her Master’s thesis, she also spent more than a year looking for answers to the question: Why don’t good readers with ASD understand what they read and what can we do about it? While there is very little research on this topic to draw upon, she transformed the findings from her formal independent study into the book Drawing A Blank: Improving Comprehension for Readers on the Autism Spectrum. Emily mined the literature to find evidence-based and promising practices that can make a real difference in a student’s educational progress and success. Several of the “promising” practices Emily suggested when DaB was first written are now considered evidence-based.

Click here to learn about presentations on this topic, including a full-day “Guided tour” of Drawing A Blank or for ordering information on the AAPC website. will be updated soon!

Research into the Transition to Adulthood

Emily has personal experience in the area of transition, having successfully helped her own son Tom become an independent adult. She also assisted dozens of advocacy clients with the process. Emily was excited to focus on topic of transition planning with the students in her university course, but at the same time was dismayed to find that so many working teachers were uninformed about creating meaningful plans.

After being asked by so many people about “secrets of success” in adult transition, Emily and Tom decided to write a book together on the topic. But they wanted to go beyond a personal story to look at the research on outcomes and best practices in the area of transition.

Their award-winning new book, Come to Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery Come to Life! has two voices and two audiences: self-advocates and parents/professionals. Tom guides self-advocates through the process of self-discovery so they can be in the driver’s seat to their future. Emily guides the adult allies who are helping a young person with ASD navigate the transition to adult life. Come to Life! is available at

Emily and Tom offer presentations on issues related to transition, including Tom’s keynote speech, Come to Life! and a guided tour of the book. Related topics include Evidence-Based Predictors of Success in Transition, Creating High-quality Transition Plans, Writing a Super Summary of Performance, Self-advocacy, Self-disclosure of disability, and Adolescence and Sexuality. Contact us to book a presentation or training!

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