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Get to Know Me and My Philosophy


Ernst VanBergeijk

Ph.D., M.S.W.

Throughout my 35-year career, I have helped parents find appropriate educational settings and solutions for their children, and helped organizations evaluate and design programming for children, youth, and young adults with disabilities.


My interest in advocacy and working with families of children and young adults with disabilities is both professional and personal. Professionally, I have decades of experience in the special education and social service fields. After earning my master’s degree, I designed and headed the social services department of a Title XX daycare system serving 1,500 children under protective service supervision. I identified infants and children at risk for developmental delays and referred them to county Child Find services in northern Florida. As a school social worker, I have conducted special education evaluations, designed individualized education programs, crafted behavioral treatment plans, and provided counseling, advocacy, and crisis intervention for students in rural Michigan and on the US/Mexico border in California. I have also developed and implemented parent training curricula. 


After earning my doctorate, I was hired to the faculty of both Columbia School of Social Work and Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. I conducted NIH-funded research on the impact Asperger Syndrome has on family functioning while working as a research associate at the Yale Child Study Center in the Autism Clinic. My current research and practice interests are in the area of transitioning higher functioning individuals on the autism spectrum to postsecondary educational settings, independent living, and the world of work. For over a decade, I served as the Associate Dean and Executive Director of New York Institute of Technology Vocational Independence Program. I was a Professor and Director of Lesley University Threshold Program, which is the nation’s oldest postsecondary comprehensive transition program for students with a variety of disabilities. I am also a field editor for the Encyclopedia of Autism and a peer reviewer for the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders among other publications. I have written over 170 publications in both peer-reviewed publications, as well as popular press publications geared toward parents of children with disabilities. I hold a Doctor of Philosophy in social work from Columbia University, and a Master of Social Work and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan.


This has been a life-long journey for me personally, having begun to develop an expertise in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) when my own child was diagnosed with ASD, along with several co-occurring conditions. Frustrated with our local school’s lack of understanding and programs for children on the autism spectrum, I had to hire my child his own advocate to get the special education services to which he was entitled under IDEA. I devoted myself to learning as much as I could about how to maximize my child’s chances of living a happy, successful life—including living independently in the community, and finding meaningful employment. This is a journey that continues today.


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