The Autism Blog

Gene McConnachie – One of Our Heroes

Gene McConnachie, PhD Retires from DDA

If you are a parent whose child was diagnosed in the 1990’s, you know that there was not much in the way of supports and services for our families back then. Little was understood about ASD and treating challenging behaviors, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) was not widely endorsed much less covered by insurance and it was almost impossible to find skilled providers to serve us. Lucky for us that at that time, Gene McConnachie had recently completed his graduate work under Dr. Ted Carr, a pioneer in the field of Positive Behavior Support (PBS).

Gene began his work in Seattle with the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) in 1993 as a clinical psychologist at two of our state’s Residential Habilitation Centers (RHC), Rainer and Fircrest. In 1996, he moved into Field Services, providing direct service to clients and families in their homes and for the past two decades, Gene has been a significant figure supporting DDA case managers, consulting with parents about behavior supports and how to navigate the DDA system, building local resources and partnerships to enhance supports to prevent clients from needing psychiatric or DDA institutional placements, teaching Positive Behavior Support to our community partners, and providing quality assurance for these services and supports.

In Gene’s twenty years at DDA, waiver services expanded to include the Children’s Intensive In-Home Behavioral Support (CIIBS) and Individual and Family Support (IFS) waivers and for fifteen years Gene’s Behavioral Support Team (BeST) program is still going strong. He trained upwards of 1000 residential support and other staff on PBS implementation within the context of DDA policies.

Gene has also played a major role in our region through his board participation in the annual Washington State Co-occurring Disorders Conference, ensuring that DDA clients and stakeholders received relevant training at a conference that would otherwise have been more exclusively focused on co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. In addition, Gene served on the Seattle Public Schools Special Education Advisory and Advocacy Council and collaborated closely with the King County Developmental Disabilities Division. Nationally, Gene has served on the leadership team of the Home and Community PBS Network and on the Board of Directors of the Association for Positive Behavior Supports.  

Today, as many of our kids diagnosed in the 1990’s are transitioning into adulthood, Gene is retiring from DDA. I asked him if he had one wish for families served by DDA, what it would be and he said this:

“That DDA services are preventive instead of reactive so that we could assist families to navigate the many challenges to having a healthy family life from birth on, and prevent the trauma, turmoil, and much of the burn-out our parents experience raising a child with IDD.  We provide mostly reactive services after much client and family anguish, stress and trauma have already worn families down.”

To Gene McConnachie, our friend, colleague, advocate, and ally, we owe you a world of gratitude and wish you all the best! Till we meet again . . .

While retiring from DDA, Dr. McConnachie is semi-retiring from work! He will continue to serve families living with ASD and ID in his private practice. You can find more here:

The Autism Blogcast – New Years Eve Edition

News Flash: The November edition of The Autism Blogcast, featuring autism experts Raphael Bernier, PhD and James Mancini, MS, CCC-SLP.

In an effort to keep you up to date on the latest news in research and community happenings, we welcome two of our favorite providers best known as Jim and Raphe, the autism news guys.

It’s time for the top ten countdown with the highlights of 2017 and Jim and Raphe invite you to hear more information about these topics when you watch Jim and Raphe live at the January 19th Autism 200   –   State of Autism Presentation.


Happy New Year from The Autism Blog- Make It an Intentional New Year

With the holidays behind us and each day bringing a bit more light, now is a good time to contemplate intentions for the New Year. This is different from the tradition of making resolutions, which tend to be firm, fixed goals we set, promising to do or not do something, often the same ones each year. An intention, on the other hand, is your purpose, where you choose to direct your attention. Your intention shapes the nature of your action.

Here is an example. Let’s say I have a tendency to have critical thoughts and feelings toward myself and others. My resolution might be “Every day, I will say at least one positive thing to myself and others.” My intention though would be more like this: “As I go through my day, may I be sensitive, kind, and compassionate to myself and others.”  The resolution is an expectation while the intention allows for possibilities. It is fluid and flexible, recognizing that we are human and need to roll with the waves that life inevitably brings.

Wishing you all things good in 2018,

The Autism Blog Team

Ask Dr. Emily – Understanding Behaviors and Communicating Concerns with Loved Ones

Welcome to the December edition of Ask Dr. Emily!

We often receive questions that we want to share with all our readers. To help with this,  Dr. Emily Rastall, a clinical psychologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center, will share insights in a question and answer format.

We welcome you to send us your questions and Dr. Rastall will do her best to answer them each month. Send your questions to

Q: I have a second cousin who is 19-years-old and has been diagnosed with autism. He is verbal, and his IQ is 92. What I can’t understand is that he is very manipulative. Is it possible that he could be misdiagnosed? He has anger issues and screams and acts like a “child” when he does not get his way. He can cook, wash clothes, and make his bed, but he only does these things when he wants to. My 73-year-old cousin, who he lives with, has had enough. He doesn’t want to move out or go to a group home, and even if he wanted to, I’m not sure he’d be accepted due to his anger issues and outbursts. What can be done for him?


A: Thank you for writing in. It sounds like there are two questions to answer here. First, you’re wondering if the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is appropriate for your cousin because you observe his behavior as “manipulative” in some ways, correct?

Rather than think about behavior as purposeful or “manipulative,” it might be helpful to think about behavior in terms of its function. Behavior for all humans always serves one (or more) of the four purposes: Get something, get attention, avoid something, or is automatically reinforced.

Behavior therapy, like applied behavior analysis (ABA), works to determine the function of behavior and can help an individual learn to get their needs met with new, more effective behaviors. 

The second question I hear you asking relates to housing resources for adults with ASD. It is possible that with behavior services, your cousin will be better able to control his outbursts and function more independently in his current living situation. However, given the age of your 73-year-old cousin he lives with, it might be a good idea to look into options for the future. Each state is different in how it handles housing for those with developmental disabilities, but keep in mind that many clients have behavioral challenges so this wouldn’t necessarily keep your cousin from being served. In Washington State, the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA), which is part of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), is the housing authority for persons with developmental disabilities.


Q: Hello. I’ve been following this site for a while now, and I have a major concern. I’m in a relationship with my girlfriend and she has a 7 yr. old daughter. We’ve been together for four years. I strongly believe that her daughter has some type of ASD. I have a son the same age as her daughter and the stress level for him when we’re all together is very high due to her abnormal behavior. Of course my son has his moments being a 7 yr. old, but it’s easily handled. Here are some of the things that are challenging: Transitions, sleeping, public meltdowns, interrupting, attention seeking, safety issues (like darting into the street without looking and talking to strangers), noncompliance, difficulty playing alone, and hyperactivity and fidgeting. It’s like she’s being driven by a motor that doesn’t shut off. I apologize for such a long list of issues. I need help in trying to talk to her mom about it. When the issues have been brought up (by her daughter’s father), my girlfriend has shut the idea down. I really love this woman, but I would not be able to move in with her if things stayed as they are now. Please help. Thank you so much.

A: Thank you for reading our blog, and I’m glad you wrote in. This sounds like a really hard situation for you, as you’re torn between a loved one and setting boundaries for yourself and your children. I can completely understand your hesitation to take that next step (moving in), especially given the stress your 7-year-old may experience. I also understand your hesitation to speak with your girlfriend about your concerns, as it sounds like her reaction to others bringing this up in the past has been (perhaps understandably) less-than-collaborative. However, as is the case in any important relationship, communication with absolute transparency, especially about the hard stuff, is key. You might start with talking about your feelings and about how hard this is for you to talk with her about. You might also share how this issue is impacting your ability to move forward in the relationship (a hard dose of reality, but reality nonetheless). Finally, you might consider approaching this as a “let’s partner on this” issue, so that your girlfriend feels supported (rather than defensive). Best of luck to you as you work to align with your partner on this tough issue.

Happy Holidays from The Autism Blog

Ready or not, the holidays are here. And with them, comes a wide range of emotions and experiences as expectation meets reality. If you live with autism, there is an additional layer superimposed on this already hectic time of year. To help, we offer a social story for the kids and some insights and tips for the adults. Check it out and share your tips for making the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable.

Anticipating the Holiday Blues

Holiday Resources- A Social Story

Happy Unconventional Holiday to you and yours!

Happy Holidays from The Autism Blog