Eric Schopler

Welcome to the web log in memory of Dr. Eric Schopler (1927-2006), a professor of psychiatry and psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill for more than 40 years and a pioneer in the humane and effective treatment of autism. In an era when parents were blamed for causing what was felt to be a psychological problem, Eric was one of the first to use empirical research to establish the true, neurological basis of autism and its effective treatment--treatment that included parents as co-therapists. His methods have been studied and adopted by autism programs around the world, bringing hope and brighter futures to thousands of families in dozens of countries. In the process, hundreds of people have come to know and admire him and have been privileged to call him "friend." This web log is dedicated to sharing and preserving the memories that these friends, family and colleagues have of this truly unique and great man.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Remembering Eric

If you would like to add a remembrance or share a story about
Eric Schopler,   send an email to Steve Cory.

Susan Houg
      Indeed, I was privileged to be in on the ground-breaking work which preceded the formation of TEACCH. Eric, Cornelius Lansing (child psychiatrist), Miggie (Lansing's wife, later Eric's wife!) doing arts and crafts, a very talented academic teacher whose name I can't remember, a social worker named Julie, and I, recruited to do music, formed an interdisciplinary team working with autistic and "schizophrenic" children as outpatients at U.N.C. Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill. This was in 1965/1966. I was large with child in the fall of 1966, which was my second year with the groups (4-5 yr olds in one and 9-10 yr olds in the other). It was an exhilerating time, because the mood, thanks to Dr. Schopler, was just beginning to "segue" from the "blame-the-parents" mode to "partner with parents" in approaching what was probably a largely organic problem. It was also exciting because both Drs. Schopler and Lansing were innovative, entrepeneurial thinkers, who cavilled not at letting a totally untrained (psychologically) outside like myself try musical interventions with these children. I remember it all as very high fun. When Dr. and Mrs. Schopler came to our house for dinner during the first year of the project, he asked me, "So, how has working with these children influenced your weltanschaung?" Huh? Then he explained that it meant "worldview" and I still didn't know what to say! An awesome person to be sure. I regret leaving NC just when things were taking off. I'd like to say hello to Miggie and thank her for her friendship in music making as well as in helping children and families.

Lilia Negron, MD, Venezuela
      I was 36 years old when I knew Dr. Schopler. He gave me all his knowledge. I was doing my first steps in the area of autism and he and I were so magnanimous. It was 1976 the first time I went to Chapel Hill. All that we started in Venezuela was with what I learned at TEACCH. We invited Eric and Margaret to our Seminar of Autism in Caracas 1980. The last time I saw him was in Barcelona, Spain.
     We don't have words to thank for all that we received from Dr. Schopler. All the parents and professionals of the Venezuelan Society for Children and Adults with Autism lament the absence of Dr. Schopler. Our condolences to Margaret, children and all professionals of TEACCH.

     Click here to view a slideshow of the quilt that TEACCH created for Eric with the following label:
     For most people it is enough to do good work, to be responsible, and to be diligent in their craft or profession. But a select few have the vision and courage to provide hope where there has been despair, to substitute insight for ignorance, to bring organization to chaos, to enrich compassion with purpose, and to empower fellow human beings with control over their lives.
     DR. ERIC SCHOPLER is one of those special people.
     This special quilt was made for him by TEACCH staff with affection and appreciation for his TWENTY YEARS of inspired service as Founder and Director of TEACCH. February 1992

Dr. Masami Sasaki, MD, Professor, Kawasaki University of Medical Welfare, Japan
     Thank you, Eric. Thank you very much, Dr. Eric Schopler, for your long, long-time friendship with me. You were the very best and most precious friend I had in the world. With the news of your passing, I have been broken with sadness.
     I visited you in Chapel Hill for the first time in August 1982 with ten of my colleagues from Tokyo for the purpose of studying the TEACCH program. I remember very clearly the things that happened those 24 years ago—the very kind hospitality you showed us and the excellent instructions that you and your colleagues at TEACCH gave us. We were very shocked but also very pleased to hear your lectures and observe the demonstrations of the TEACCH method at work in the communities where you had achieved such beautiful practices for people with autism spectrum disorders and their families.
     Since then, for these last 24 years, we have had the very great privilege of working with you, Eric. You have flown to our country many times with your wife, Miggie, and with your colleagues from TEACCH, and you have given us many excellent lectures, training seminars, and so on. You have also welcomed and trained a great number of Japanese professionals who have come to the United States to study the TEACCH philosophy and practices. You have continued to support us and encouraged us to take heart and to take pride and satisfaction in our professional work.
     I cannot express exactly enough how much happier and more hopeful are the lives that you have given to people with autism and their families, as well as to many autism professionals working throughout Japan. On behalf of a great number of people in our country, I would strongly like to express my feelings of deepest gratitude to you.
     We will never forget, Eric, your great contribution to improving the lives of people with autism spectrum disorders and the people living and working with them across our country.
     Thank you, Eric. Thank you very much, Dr. Eric Schopler. I look forward to the pleasure of seeing you again, in another world, in the not-so-distant future.

Rebecca L. Dossett, Ph.D., Dossett Clinic for People With Autism, Birmingham, AL
     I met Eric in July of 1972 when I began training to be a Psychoeducational Therapist at the new Asheville TEACCH Center. We spent hours and days and weeks with him. Among many things I learned from Eric, first and foremost was to listen to parents. I learned to try not to scapegoat parents or teachers when I felt inadequate in my work. I learned that he expected me to use what ever good, common sense I might have acquired. I knew he expected me to think, and not to rely entirely on what I might have learned from my formal education (sparse as it was at the time). I learned that he expected me to never give up trying. I was to learn from him that the task ahead would challenge any good sense I might have, my ego, my stamina, and my education.
     Eric inspired me to try to meet these challenges. Many times they felt overwhelming, but more often they were profoundly intellectually stimulating and even sometimes exhilarating. Since that month of July in 1972, every day for 34 years, I have remembered, and relied on, those lessons I leaned from him. They have not failed me. I thank him for inviting me to participate in his life’s work, which became my life’s work. I am forever grateful to Eric Schopler for sharing with me, along with tens of thousands of others, his gifts.

Christy Magnusen
     I am but one of (I’m sure) many thousands of people who will miss Dr. Schopler. I wish I could say I knew all sorts of nuances about him, but my interchange with Dr. S. was intermittent, brief, but always deep. I know only what I experienced in those very brief, but poignant experiences with him.
     Dr. S. was a visionary. He stood up in the face of controversy, so he was also a hero. He patterned a belief system that was new, unique, and ultimately very therapeutic for so many children with autism and their families. Their stories are the most important. But I am a theoretical follower and practitioner of Dr. S. I followed his footprints (but never tried on his shoes!). His were (figuratively) big shoes to follow. Nevertheless, he is an icon in the field of pervasive developmental disorders. His vision was always focused on children, families, and their relationship with schools. This is a legacy that we owe Eric, every day, in every way, and with everyone we meet in this challenge we face against autism.
     Dr. Schopler was a dear heart, and besides his passion for ASD, he had a family, and he had everyday chores, responsibilities, and activities, just like all of us. To be around Dr. S., one would sense his "commonness". He told me of his beloved dogs, and upon hearing this, I realized we had a second interest, for I too loved dogs. It was an exceptional moment to see his eyes brighten as he talked about those dogs…their habits, their personalities, and how he cared for them during trying times. So, indeed, Dr. S. was an everyman. He was just like me and you….but he made an indelible impression on those of us who were there to learn from him. And that special gift, the art of teaching others, is what sets Eric Schopler apart from the rest.
     Godspeed to E. S. and to all who knew him.

Steve Cory, Information Technology Specialist @ UNC-CH
     I am the parent of an autistic man who goes by the name of Jason. Accepting that my son was autistic was one of the most confusing and difficult trials I have been through in my life. I became a member of the Autism Society of America, or the ASA, in 1987 soon after I had received a diagnosis from Dr. Cook at the University of Chicago. I wanted to keep informed about autism and felt they might help me cope with the hand I had been dealt. They began sending the Autism Advocate, a newsletter, which I began to read cover to cover with the hope they would discover a breakthrough or a miracle drug that would restore speech, calm behaviors or help to learn.
     One day in August of 94 the mail slot clinked and there was Dr. Eric Schopler on the cover of the ASA newsletter. It featured Eric in an interview, better known as "Ask the Experts", that changed my point of view of autism. I noticed that Eric held value in the parent’s perspective. In the interview, Eric explained the six principles that guided the TEACCH system. I was amazed that there was a system and that it helped to observe and evaluate each individual and how to use their strengths to help them learn. It was incredible that behavior and cognitive theories could be used as a basis for useful interventions. It was then I knew there really was an Autism Expert. Dr. Eric Schopler.
     Some people don’t believe in destiny or fate. As fate would have it, Chicago with the cold and the snow and the divorce and the lack of services and lost schools would lead me to Eric. So here’s the story of a man named Cory who was bringing up three boys on his own. They were four men living all together but they were all alone. And then one day when this CHALU met this fellow, and they knew that it was much more than a group, that this bunch could somehow form a family. That’s they way they became part of the Schopler soup.
     Eric was a brilliant humanitarian, developed the autism rating scale, honed in on collaborating with parents and professionals, helped build support communities, and founded an internationally known treatment program that helped people in great numbers.
     I got to know Eric in a special way. A way in which everything is logical, communication is understood using electricity and words, viruses and infections are not easily removed, and photos and colors are used for visual effects. I’ll always think that I helped Eric to handle his computing, but I’ll always know that Eric helped the world to handle their understanding of autism. Even when there were crackers adding salt and soaking it up, it felt warm and soothing to be a noodle in the soup.

Brenda Denzler, Ph.D., Info & Comm Specialist, TEACCH
     For the better part of the last five years I have had the privilege of working off and on for Eric. Therefore, I keep thinking that I should write something for this remembrance page—that my silence is not appropriate. But I keep having trouble trying to put into words what it has meant to me to get to know him. It’s been easier to draft obituaries and transmit messages about memorial services and help gather others’ memories, than to sit down and try to give voice to my own. In those moments when I’ve stopped to seriously think about what I remember about Eric and how I might share those memories with others, I come away stymied. For I do not know how to put laughter into words.
     What was it like to work for Eric? We laughed a lot. We worked on Pro-Ed manuscripts and we laughed. We worked on Power Point presentations and we laughed. We worked on figuring out how his *@#! computer worked, and we laughed. There may have been frustration or irritation or perplexity mixed up in there, too, sometimes. But there was also laughter. Sooner or later, there was always laughter.
     And there are other memories. Of the day when we were working on the computer at his house and he saw Bingo barking at something in an old rotted-out tree stump in the yard. He got a rifle, went outside and shot the copperhead that Bingo had cornered, casually tossed the dead snake down an embankment, came back into the house, and we resumed our work.
     Of his willingness to come celebrate with me when my book was published. I wasn’t just an employee to him...I was a person with an outside life, and he was happy to share a bright spot in it with me.
     Of the times of trouble, when I was at my wits’ end and he listened to me, believed in me, and became my advocate.
     Of the trip to Japan I took with him in 2002 when Miggie broke her leg at the last minute and couldn’t travel. (I’m really sorry you broke your leg…but thank you, Miggie!) What an adventure I had! Eric told our hosts that I was interested in religion, so we saw as many temples as we had time to see, in between the talks and forums and parties that they had scheduled for him. He seemed to enjoy watching me see Japan for the first time. But I have a photo of him sitting in a lovely little tea house surrounded by a bamboo forest…looking vaguely sad. I may have been an OK companion, but I was no substitute for Miggie. He never said so; he was too gracious for that. But sometimes I could see it in his eyes.
     Of the time a few weeks before he died, when I needed an air compressor and he arranged for me to borrow his neighbor’s, which the neighbor lifted easily into the trunk of my car. Eric and "Citizen Cane" came with me to return it, too, one drizzly, rainy day. But the neighbor wasn’t there. I managed to lift the compressor out of the trunk (over Eric’s protests) and then plopped it down on the ground, trying to catch my breath before waddling with it over to the carport. Before I could do that, however, Eric waved me aside, bent down, grabbed the compressor by the handle, and heaved it upward. But it didn’t move, and Eric staggered a bit, catching himself with the cane. What he could have done nine months earlier, he was totally unable to do that day. The look of wounded masculine pride that crossed his face was painful for me to see. "Good grief, Eric! You’ve just been really sick and had all that chemotherapy and radiation. Your body hasn’t had a chance to get strong again yet!" Seldom has the truth, for all its virtues, seemed so flimsy and inadequate to me.
     When I have to present Eric to the outside world, when I write about him now, it is Eric as the Great Man. Eric the founder of TEACCH. Eric the visionary researcher into the cause of autism. Eric the clinician who changed the face of autism treatment forever. And those things are important to me, because I have a son on the spectrum.
     But when I think of Eric, myself, it is not that person I remember. It is the Eric who shot snakes and visited temples and celebrated milestones and missed Miggie and loved Bingo and believed in me. Most of all, it’s the Eric I laughed a lot with. That’s the Eric I remember.
     "Through the simple act of being born and dying," writes P.M.H. Atwater, "we each, as ‘givers of gifts,’ enrich all that life is. We give the gift of our potential at birth, what we can become. At death, we leave the gift of our achievement, what we did with what we had. Two gifts: one we bring in with us; one we leave behind us after we’re gone. Whether coming or going, we bless this world with the gifts that our existence bestows" (We Live Forever, p. 3).
     This is my thank-you card to you, Eric. The world is a better place for your having been in it. We are enriched.
     Let us all laugh, then, in honor of the gifts that Eric has bestowed. Sooner or later, let us laugh.

Tomoko Haramaki
     We are now preparing Dr. Shopler's memorial page in our website.

Bernadette Rogé, PhD, Professor at the University of Toulouse le Mirail, France
     I first heard of Eric Schopler’s work as early as my second year of studies at the University of Nice where, by a stroke of luck, Professor Jacques Corraze became my teacher. He was an open-minded person, who considered psychoanalytic theories with a critical eye. Thanks to him, I could contact Schopler and later achieve the French translation of the CARS. It is several years later that I could at last apply to practice the knowledge of the clinical signs of autism that this assessment tool had given me. I then endeavored to train myself to this educational approach, and to introduce it in France. Éric Schopler always lent an attentive ear to the needs and difficulties of the French parents and professionals who had to battle against the psychoanalytic model that still prevailed. Éric Schopler delivered his first lecture at the University of Toulouse in 1988. He came back the following year with his wife Margaret and his collaborator Gary Mesibov for a more thorough theoretical training. Further to this, we organized several practical training programs with Gary Mesibov’s team in Toulouse. Éric Schopler always appeared at our disposal; ready to help us develop services that would be adapted for people with autistic impairment or for their families. His work in France and elsewhere constituted an innovative approach for the parents who derived from the works of Éric Schopler efficient strategies to support the development of their children and experienced a renewed energy to fulfill their role as educators.
     Further to these training programs, a diagnostic center was developed in the Toulouse region, special classes were integrated in the general school system and, more recently, a service platform including early intervention for toddlers, home care, and special care and assistance for school-system integration as well as the preparation and professional assistance to support employment integration plans.
Other French parents and professionals have set up collaborations with the TEACCH division and this produced the multiplication of TEACCH classes and services for adolescents and adults in all regions.
     In 1993, the Arapi association for autism research and the prevention of maladjustments wished to honor Éric Schopler and elected him as their honorary president. In 1989, in homage to his significant contribution to the University of Toulouse and to local associations, the mayor of Toulouse awarded him the medal of the city.
     Even though France remains behind when compared to other European countries, this educational approach now benefits a number of persons with autism as well as their families. We are deeply grateful to Éric Schopler for what his relentless, invaluable work and his engaging personality have brought to us.

Alice Brooks
     In 1970 our son Darien was four years old and diagnosed with Autism. It was recommended to us that we place him in an institution, as there was nothing for him in society. Harry, his Dad, was in Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill at the time, and heard of the Child Research Project. Harry talked to Dr. Schopler and he welcomed our family into his family. Darien is now forty years old and we are still a TEACCH family. Dr. Schopler, Miggie and all our therapists raised Harry and me as well as Darien! They trained us, loved us, guided us, and scolded us when we needed it. They gave us not only hope, but they gave us life itself. You can't imagine what it means to the parents of an Autistic son not only to be told it wasn't our fault, but that WE could be Darien's therapists!!!
     Darien's letter to Dr. Schopler echos our love for all the TEACCH family - past and present. Our hearts ache, but our memories are so sweet. Oh, by the way -- thanks to the TEACCH Program, when Darien turned eighteen, we took the advice of the people who tested him when he was four. The institution was UNC-Wilmington. He studied Music and Creative Writing!! Love Always.

Galene Fraley
     When I heard that Eric had left us, I just knew I had to come to this gathering. I saw him first in 1972 at the start of the very first four-week training that began the whole experience of TEACCH. I was a new teacher, then—wet behind the ears—and I had applied for a job with TEACCH. I had to leave town just a few days after I interviewed, but I said I would come by later to find out if I had gotten the job.
     So that’s how I happened to end up standing there in the doorway on the very first day of that four-week training, waiting for someone to notice me. Suddenly, these two guys come in like a whirlwind and they’re both talking—quite loudly!— at once. And out of this jumble comes, "Well, who IS in charge here?!!" And that was my first introduction to Eric!
     I decided at that point that this really was not the place for me to be right then, that there was too much going on…and I left. I called back later and was told no, I didn’t get the job I had applied for. But there was another job that they wondered if I would be interested in, and would I come back and apply for that. I did, and ended up starting one of the first classes for kids with autism in the state, in Asheville.
     The first time Eric visited my classroom, which may have been the first time I actually met him in person, he walked in, saw my two students—which was all we had at the time—and said, "This isn’t a classroom! This is a dyad!" Those were really heartwarming words for a new teacher!
     In spite of that inauspicious beginning, as I look back over the time that I’ve been privileged to know Eric, I have so many, many wonderful memories—I remember feeling so honored when he began remembering my name (though it took awhile!). I am just so blessed to have had him in my life. He gave me the opportunities to learn so very much from him, from families, from people with autism, and from all the wonderful professionals in the organization of TEACCH that I’ve worked with. So thank you, Eric. More than I can say, thank you.

Gary Mesibov’s Tribute, Delivered at the Celebration of the Life of Eric Schopler - 7/15/2006
     I’m Gary Mesibov, and I am the current Director of TEACCH, although I always have and always will feel that Eric is really the Director of TEACCH. I’ve worked with Eric for 32 years. He’s been a friend and a mentor and a colleague. And like many of us, he taught me everything important that I know about autism—and a lot of other things as well. When I joined the TEACCH program, I didn’t know very much about autism. And Eric said, "Well, don’t worry. Whatever you need to know, you can learn." And that was really a tribute to him as a teacher, because he could teach just about anybody just about anything.
     But I think the thing I remember most about Eric, and was most in awe of, really relates to this microphone. When you work for Eric as closely as I did, you get to go all over the world with him. As a result, I observed his remarkable ability to connect with any people from any culture, in any part of the world. But there was always a special chemistry, above and beyond that, when Eric would go to Japan. Many of us who were lucky enough to go with him said it was like going with a rock star! He was just that highly admired!
     There were many good reasons for that, but probably the most important was that in Japan they always have, in these seminars, a tradition. There is a microphone just like this one, and people would get up in front of the microphone and they would talk about their experiences and the seminar. And Eric, being the leader, was always the first. Of all the things he did well, it was his ability to stand in front of this microphone, talking through a translator, for not more than three or four minutes, and somehow being able to communicate this combination of humility and respect and intelligence and connection and understanding. It was truly intimidating for me to have to get up and speak after him, because there was no way—no way anybody could ever match him.
     I feel him watching and smiling now as I—as I attempt to do the same thing here today. And probably he’d want to tell me, "Well, you’re doing well. Keep at it and it’s going to work out pretty well, in the end." And I hope it will. But never as well as he did it. No one did...or could.
     At TEACCH we have received, as I think almost everybody else has, an enormous number of letters and cards and calls from people from all over the world, communicating many, many different things. I think the most common message, and certainly the one I feel, and I think that’s why celebrating in front of a microphone is so appropriate, is how incredibly privileged everybody feels—and certainly myself—to have had 32 years of his teaching and his friendship and his guidance. And the only way I would have the courage to continue is to know that he’s still here and he’s watching over us as we continue to learn and continue to grow…and, one day, Eric, maybe I’ll even master this microphone thing, if I keep working and remembering what you would say and how well you would say it.

Susan Moreno, parent & founder of MAAP Services for Autism and Asperger Syndrome
     I first met Eric Schopler at a TEACCH conference. I was there at Gary Mesibov’s invitation as a presenter, but I was very nervous about meeting this esteemed man who was so very famous in the autism world. By the time I finished my presentation, he was there offering his friendship and mentoring. He was a great advisor to our organization and gave a stirring presentation for us, spending hours afterword chatting with families and offering them help and advice.
     When Eric Schopler’s work and theories on the proper treatment and the biological basis of autism became known in the psychological and medical communities, it was like the first rays of the sun at dawn for parents of these special people. He discounted the theory of "refrigerator mothers" and made parents and families a very important part of the therapeutic team in teaching and helping people with autism. His passing will leave countless families sad and feeling a great loss. Eric Schopler’s sun may have set on this earth, but his legacy and good works will live on for generations to come. I extend my deepest sympathies to his wonderful wife and family.

Mike Resnik
     I’m not associated with TEACCH, though I have been associated with the University for a long time. There was a time when I looked at Eric as one of my two best male friends. It’s not like anything ever happened between us that made him not one of my two best male friends...I just don’t have any best male friends any more. I got too busy being a grandfather, I think. And Eric was busy being a grandfather and also being a famous person that traveled around the world. I’d like to say something a little bit different about Eric.
     Eric used to say that it was Janet and me who were responsible for him being on his farm. At the time we were living in what was considered "way out in the county." Our ability to make our way and to handle the situations that came up inspired Eric. So he moved out here, too.
     Back in the 1970s, the hog farmers were getting so little money for their hogs that they were marching on Washington. And my family and I decided that we would buy one of those cheap hogs and see whether we could butcher it. So we bought some books and we did. We cured the hams, and my wife’s mother liked our hams so much that she kept buying us more hogs! But, if anyone has ever butchered a hog, they’re very greasy. You get a lot of grease all over your hands, and it seems like it takes forever to get rid of it. So we decided we’d go in for beef. And Eric was up for that.
     So, there was a Labor Day Monday when I didn’t have to teach and he could get time off, and we went over to the Hillsborough Stock Market, and we waited, but we couldn’t get ourselves to bid. I don’t’ remember if we were having a sort of fight over it….But finally they got down to the last cow, which was an old dairy cow, and the people that were bidding on it were from the dog food slaughtering houses. And finally— You know, Eric didn’t want to leave there without buying anything, and I didn’t want to leave there, either! So, we started bidding, and we could see the guy from the dog food plant in the back, and he just sort of waved as if to say, "All right, let them have it."
     So, we bought this cow that was all bones, and we brought it back home, and Susie [Eric’s daughter] groomed the cow and fed it, and she—we were persuaded not to kill it, but to take it back and get something better! We did, and we made $100 on the deal!
     Well, why was Eric one of my best friends? First of all, he had a tremendous intellect and a tremendous sense of humor, so he was somebody that I could always talk to. You could open up to him. And both of us were heads of departments at the University and farmers, so we had a lot in common, and I’m very glad that I got to know him. I will miss him a lot. I already do.

Mary Lou (Bobo) Warren
     Hello. My name is Bobo Warren, and I want to share with you some of my early remembrances of Eric. I remember the first time that Frank and I saw Eric. He came out of his office to greet us on our first visit to Trailer 18, just outside the doorway of the Psychiatry wing. He was dressed in a plaid shirt and khaki pants and had mud on his shoes. And I remember asking myself, "Could this be the doctor?!" I was not quite prepared for this, because what I’d been used to was white coats, stiff upper lips, and blank stares. Later that day as we walked down the sidewalk to our car, I had tears in my eyes as I looked at Frank and said, "My God! We have finally found someone who wants to help us."
     As I came to know him, I found him to be a warm and kind person, most human, and full of compassion. I immersed myself in the program and in no time I was surprised by George’s progress. He came to the program as a six-year-old with no language, and in a matter of months he was using language—in a very limited way…but he was talking! I thought it was nothing short of a miracle, because I never dreamed he would ever talk. It was at that moment that I knew we had struck gold—that this program would somehow distinguish itself.
     I wrote a letter to Ruth Sullivan, who was then the president of the National Autism Society. With great enthusiasm, I told her about the project which later became Division TEACCH, and I urged her to put an article in the national newsletter about Eric’s work. As I remember it, she wrote back that he was not well enough known, and that he was going against the most respected treatment modalities of that time. And I wrote her back and told her that one day, in the very near future, this treatment modality would be highly sought-after. And by the second annual meeting of the national society, there he was—addressing professionals from across the country and around the world.
     I’m going to say it again, and I know he’s listening, that George and I thank him profoundly for the help he gave us, and for all the help he has given to children across this state, this nation, and the world.

Kay Flinn
     I feel privileged to have known Eric both professionally and personally over the past 29 years. His vision of a program to treat people with autism and support their families was a joy to be part of over the years. Most of us can probably say that we have had some impact on people we have known personally in our lives -- Eric may be the only person I have known who has had such an impact on thousands of families and children he never met personally.
     One of my favorite memories of Eric is a very simple one. I used to house sit for him and Miggie. At one point, I looked through an old photo album of theirs. A picture of an empty pond, with the inscription in Eric's young handwriting: "There were supposed to be ducks in this picture."
     Thank goodness Eric saw the possibilities everywhere.

Betty Camp, Tribute to Dr. Eric Schopler at ASA National Conference in Providence, Rhode Island - 7/13/2006
Good morning,
     To our President and CEO, Mr. Lee Grossman, and all assembled; especially the parents of this great organization. I come to you this morning on behalf of the parents of the Autism Society of North Carolina and our State, to say that this past week has been very difficult and sad for us at the passing of our dear friend, founder and mentor, Dr. Eric Schopler. For me, it is a very personal sadness because of the profound effect he had on my life and the life our son, Norman. But, despite my sadness, I feel privileged and blessed to have known him and to have been one of the parents whose child was fortunate to be a part of his vital research that changed the course of thinking about autism through implementing a humane, innovative approach that revolutionized the treatment of autism in our state, this country, and worldwide. His model was to address the disability of autism that did not blame the parents for their child’s condition, but to use the parents as co-therapists to treat the condition. We experienced a change in these children – from one of hopelessness to one of hope! I’ve often said, "What would my life with Norman have been like if Dr. Schopler had not decided to leave the University of Chicago and come to Chapel Hill, North Carolina?" I can only thank Providence that he did and we met in 1967.
     His collaborative effort between parents and professionals, the respect that he had for parents and how he valued their input, were the common threads that ran through all the years of his work that we will never forget. He was a teacher, administrator, writer, editor, advisor, consultant and friend, and underlying all of this, he was a caring and compassionate man who empowered a small group of parents to become leaders and advocates for their children. With that empowerment, we petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly to fund the TEACCH/ Autism Program under the auspices of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. What had begun as a mere possibility became a political reality that would reach all autistic children around the state. This statewide program provided treatment services for children with autism and related disorders to become an educational challenge in the public schools of North Carolina, rather than an emotional disorder best addressed in a psychiatric center.
     The end result of all of Eric’s efforts today includes nine (9) clinical centers, a rural residential center, a supported employment program, several early intervention programs, and extensive training programs for professionals. He supported my efforts as President of the State Society, and the vision of Mary L. Warren to build a camp for autistic people located in Pittsboro, NC (Chatham County) near Chapel Hill, to address the recreational needs of our children and give parents needed respite. This camp was dedicated in May 1997.
     One of the most important manifestations of all he achieved has been the adoption of the TEACCH methods and programs by thousands of professionals and parents in every state in the United States and in more than thirty countries around the world. THIS WAS THE LIFE OF THIS REMARKABLE MAN! Thank you, Eric, for all you meant to us! And, I thank you for your attention.

Douglas C. McCrory, M.D. M.H.S., Durham, NC
     I’ve been privileged to be a guest of Eric’s many times at the New Year’s Eve bonfire, up at the house in Celo, and the pond draining and fish fry. But my most cherished memory of Eric was when he was our guest at my family’s cabin in the mountains, a range and a valley over from Celo.
     My passion at the time was hiking to remote waterfalls in the Wilson Creek Recreation area, a part of Pisgah National Forest. On this particular time was a day hike on a moderately strenuous trail to see Hunt Fish Falls. Eric’s son Tom and his family and Eric and Miggie were along. I remember getting a little concerned when Eric had to stop a couple of times because he was having angina – but with a little slower pace he persevered to make it to the small falls, with a big clear still splash pool and slick rocks down below that some of us went sliding down.
     Later that day, either on the trail back, or around our cabin – I can’t remember which – Eric made a find in the forest. He found a big bright fungus the size of a Frisbee and the color of a traffic cone. He suggested we eat this along with our dinner of steaks on the grill and corn on the cob. And he volunteered to cook it up in a frying pan with butter.
     With great trepidation, we agreed, and when it was done, served it. Wondering whether we would get violently ill, or spend the next 48 hours on a psychedelic trip, several of us overcame our inhibitions and ate it up. Surprisingly tasty!
     That day Eric demonstrated to me a couple of things. First, he had endurance and unselflessness – he kept going at personal hardship just so everyone could pursue our goal for the day – and I think Eric realized that a hike to a waterfall with family and friends is an important journey in itself. Second, he reminded me that you can find new and interesting experiences right under your nose if you use your smarts – by preparing that mushroom, Eric transformed a rather ordinary menu into a unique meal I’ll never forget. I’ll miss him.

Tribute to Uncle Eric
     I am so saddened by the death of Uncle Eric, and yet comforted that his terrific struggle has ended, and he is at peace.
     As evidenced by the tremendous outpouring of admiration, respect, awe, and affection from those around the world who celebrated his retirement from TEACCH last year – Eric’s life touched so many, and made life better for so many, that words fail to adequately describe. Autism wasn’t the only arena benefiting from his insights, dedication, philanthropy and humor.
     As his niece, I too thrived in the glow of his love of family -reunions, a torch he picked up after Granny and Erno were no longer able to carry will remain fond memories forever. His dedication to, and generosity with family brought us from near and far to enjoy the company of relatives and friends. Gian-Marco grew up thinking of him as Grandpa Eric, and was confused for a long time that he could have a grandpa, who was also my uncle! A favorite picture of ours, is that of G-M sitting in Eric’s lap at a picnic at the base of Mt. Mitchell when he was about 4 years old. Fishing at Beechwood and for catfish is another special vignette for him. It is an on-going source of pride that he got to chauffer Grandma Irene, Eric and Miggie to and from the hotel last year as one of his first solo driving experiences! Thanks to Eric and the other wonderful Chapel Hillians, UNC is on the list of universities that G-M is considering. In tribute to Eric, Gian-Marco is putting ES on all his baseball hats this year.
     It is rare to find a person who is able to lead his life successfully, with a balance of work and fun, family and friends, travel and home life, humor and temper. He serves as an amazing role model in life and death, and I am so very proud and humbled to have been close to him.
     We raise a toast to you, Eric, for all you have been and represent, with a goal of following in your footsteps as closely as possible. I wish our time together could have been longer and am grateful for what time we had! You always have been and always will be special to me.
All my love and affection,

One of our clients phoned the TEACCH receptionist when he heard about Eric’s death and was just sobbing his heart out. When he came into the office next time, he made the receptionist copy all the old pictures of Eric and the Japanese visitors. He then cut out the images of Eric and pasted them onto a file folder so that, as he said, he could always remember Eric Schopler.

A big, tall client came into the TEACCH offices late in the day on Tuesday after Eric had passed. The training coordinator saw him wandering in the hall and asked if she could help him. He reached up and took his hat off, held it over his heart, and explained that he had just come to "pay my respects to the man."

Joaquin Fuentes M.D.; San Sebastian, Spain - Everybody knows that Eric has changed the life of thousands of persons with autism and their families. He has also changed the life of persons with autism in my community. I remember that in 1981 I attended the ASA meeting in Boston. We had gone there with a wish to develop solid community services for autism in Spain... but we did not know how to do this!! And then, all the sudden, we heard Eric talking about the North Carolina program. And that was like a revelation!! Now we knew what we wanted, and how to do it. And I approached him right there, and he immediately agreed to support us, and invited me for the first time to visit your program. That moment changed my professional life, and thanks to all of you, we have been able to successfully replicate the TEACCH program in Northern Spain. 25 years later, our GAUTENA program is the largest community program in central and southern Europe, and we have inspired many other programs, carrying on the inspiration that we got from you. And this will be never forgotten.

Eric had written to his sister’s friend in Germany on May 13, 2006 - "We're mostly having a very good day, just about every day. Cancer, or knowing of mortality, gets a fair bit of credit: 1st — Makes you realize much more vividly how great it is to be alive each day. 2nd — Makes me realize how extraordinarily lucky I've been all my life: escaping the Nazis to the US, getting a great education, followed by a marvelous career, a fantastic wife, family and friends, and a splendid community. If I should drop dead before I see you next, which I seriously doubt, you can be sure I will die with a grateful smile on my face."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


1972 - Gold Achievement Award for the Child Research Project, presented by the American Psychiatric Association.

1985 - O. Max Gardner Award, presented by the University of North Carolina for making the greatest contribution to human welfare.

1985 - Distinguished Professional Contributions to Public Service Award, presented by the American Psychological Association.

1988 - Eugene A. Hargrove Mental Health Research Award, presented by the N.C. Foundation for Health Research.

1989 - Search for Excellence Award for Community-Based Work Services, presented by the J.M. Foundation.

1993 - North Carolina Award, for notable accomplishments by a North Carolina citizen in the fields of scholarship, research, the fine arts, and public leadership. (The highest honor the state can bestow.)

1995 - Prize for Excellence in Service to People with Autism, presented by the Eden Institute.

1997 - Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Advancement of Knowledge and Service, given by the American Psychological Association.

1998 - Brinkgreven Hospital Workshop Building named in honor of Eric Schopler, in Brinkgreven, the Netherlands.

2005 - Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Autism Society of North Carolina.

2005 - The Eric Schopler Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Division TEACCH.

2006 - Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by IMFAR.

2006 - Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Application of Psychology, presented by the American Psychological Foundation.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Celebration of His Life

Eric Schopler, Ph.D.

Dr. Eric Schopler, 79, internationally recognized authority on the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, died at his home outside Mebane, NC, on July 7, 2006, after a courageous battle with cancer.

Schopler revolutionized treatment for children and adults with autism through an extraordinary career that began in the early 1960s with his dissertation research on the perceptual preferences of children with autism. In the following years, he was instrumental in replacing then-prevailing psychodynamic theories of autism that blamed parents for the disorder, with research-based, developmental theories of causation. The success of his further research into appropriate and effective interventions for both children and parents led the State of North Carolina to establish in 1971 the first state-funded program for the treatment of children with autism. The program’s humane, innovative approach to autism at a time when the field was quite primitive has influenced autism treatment worldwide.

Schopler was born in 1927 in Furth, Germany, the second of three children of Ernst Schopler, a prominent attorney, and his wife Erna Oppenheimer. He often said that he had a deceptively pleasant childhood in that, while he was aware of Germany’s anti-Semitic social policies, he did not experience anti-Semitism personally. He noted, however, that he was aware that “There’s something wrong here,” since some of his Jewish teachers, friends, and acquaintances disappeared suddenly, were imprisoned, or were killed. This awareness coupled with his family’s sudden move to the United States to avoid being caught up in the looming Holocaust were responsible for his lifelong interest in the question of why certain individuals and groups become socially excluded, misinterpreted, and scapegoated by their fellow citizens.

The Schopler family emigrated to the United States in 1938, where Schopler’s father studied American law, obtained his doctorate from Harvard Law School, and then joined the staff of General Lucius Clay, military governor of Germany, as chief of the Legal Division commissioned to de-Nazify the laws in post-war Germany. Schopler finished high school in Rochester, New York, joined the U.S. Army, and then attended the University of Chicago, where he ultimately earned a graduate degree in social service administration and his Ph.D. in clinical child psychology in 1964.

It was while he was in graduate school that Schopler became interested in exploring the nature of autism (or “childhood schizophrenia,” as it was then called) and the twin questions of how best to treat it and what role parents should play in that process. He became convinced that the prevailing view of autism as a psychological disorder was wrong, that parents had been scapegoated as the cause of their children’s condition, and that the best remedy for the prevailing theoretical misinterpretation would come through empirical research. As a result, he designed his dissertation as an empirical study of autistic children’s receptor preferences. This research, which showed that children with autism tend to rely more on the near-receptor systems of touch and smell than on the distance-receptors of sight and sound, was one of the first studies to establish the neurological basis of the disorder.

Schopler joined the faculty of the Psychiatry Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1964 and soon began working with Dr. Robert Reichler, who was completing his residency in child psychiatry. Together, they pursued the implications of Schopler’s doctoral research for the treatment of autism, obtaining funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health for a study on the uses of structured environments in treatment. At the same time, they studied the parents of children with autism and found that, far from being the cause of their children’s condition, they could be very effective co-therapists in its treatment. This five-year research program was so successful in helping autistic children gain critical life skills that the families involved refused to let it end. In collaboration with Schopler and Reichler, they petitioned the state legislature for permanent funding, and Division TEACCH was born. From its foundation, the Division for the Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped CHildren stressed the need for specialized educational interventions for autistic children and the importance of parent–professional collaboration. This TEACCH model has been recognized by psychiatric colleagues through inclusion in the treatment volume of the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a cutting-edge intervention for the autism spectrum.

In the course of his 40-year career, Schopler was the author of more than 200 books and articles on autism spectrum disorders, the most recent being The TEACCH Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders. From 1974 until 1997 he was the editor of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. His continued research led to the creation of some of the earliest diagnostic and treatment protocols, which are still widely used today, having been translated into ten foreign languages for use in autism programs around the world that follow the TEACCH model. Under Schopler’s leadership, the TEACCH program grew from three clinics and ten special autism classrooms in public schools, to nine clinics and more than 300 TEACCH-affiliated classrooms. The program also developed a comprehensive training division for parents and professionals worldwide, internship and postdoctoral programs for undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students, and, in recognition of the fact that children with autism grow up to be adults with autism, a supported employment program. In 1993, Schopler went into semi-retirement, turning control of the program over to Dr. Gary Mesibov, under whose direction it has continued to grow with the inauguration of the program’s first residential facility and vocational program.

Schopler received numerous awards for his work, including the American Psychiatric Association’s Gold Achievement Award for the Child Research Project in l972; UNC’s O. Max Gardner Award in 1985 for making the greatest contribution to human welfare; the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Professional Contributions to Public Service Award in l985; the NC Foundation for Health Research’s Eugene A. Hargrove Mental Health Research Award in 1988; the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest honor, in 1993; the Eden Institute’s 1995 Prize for Excellence in Service to People with Autism; the American Psychological Association’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Advancement of Knowledge and Service in 1997; the Autism Society of North Carolina’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005; IMFAR’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006; and the American Psychological Foundation’s Gold Medal for Life Achievement in the Application of Psychology, which will be award posthumously later in 2006. In addition, Schopler has been honored by numerous awards from various autism organizations internationally.

One of the highlights for Schopler in this long series of recognitions occurred in May 2005 when friends and admirers from around the nation and the world gathered for a gala celebration to honor his lifetime of work for people with autism and to inaugurate two distinctions: the The Eric Schopler Lifetime Achievement Award, given in recognition of exemplary leadership in and enduring contributions to the understanding and treatment of autism, for which he was the first recipient, and the establishment of a fund in support of an Eric Schopler Endowed Chair in Autism Research at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Despite his busy professional life, Schopler had an equally full and rewarding personal life. In his spare time he raised chickens, horses, cows, rabbits and even catfish with his family at their home outside of Mebane, NC. He always had an idea of something new and fun to try. When he did not know how to do something himself, he was always able to find a friend that was willing to help and teach him. Whether he wanted to build a barn or a log cabin or plant an orchard, he always approached his endeavors with an excitement and energy that inspired others to get excited and energized as well. The results were wonderful.

If he were asked to prioritize what was important to him, he would say family first, community second and education third. He believed in “Western Enlightenment,” which he described as the recognition that democracies and societies are best suited to take care of their constituencies, and he applied this belief in his personal as well as in his professional life. His belief in the importance of his neighbors and neighborhood was the same belief that drove him to create such a close yet large neighborhood in the world of autism. That which made him a great psychologist also made him a great father, brother, uncle, grandfather, and friend. No matter who you were, he had the ability to make you feel special.

Schopler is survived by his wife, Margaret Schopler; his sister, Irene Solomon; his children, Bobby, Tommy and Susie Schopler; seven grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews. He is also survived by the very large community of professionals, parents, and individuals with autism from around the world whose lives have been touched by his life and his work.

When asked in 1998 about the one thing he was most proud of in his professional life, he replied, "I think it's cumulative, all of these little details. Just the fact that we're interested in autism, and how our program's going. I feel good about that. Even though it wasn't me by myself; it was all you guys. But I still feel good, because I really have had the most wonderful colleagues in this program."

"But, if you meant a particular, single event, such as getting a grant or getting awards, or getting things like that—I think it’s the parents. When they get genuinely appreciative and excited, and enthusiastic about the progress in their kid, well, that, to me, is probably as important as anything like outcome data. It’s unforgettable."

Clara Park, author and mother of artist Jessy Park, who has autism, has aptly expressed the sentiments of parents around the world about Eric Schopler:

"You, more than anyone else, lifted the terrible burden imposed by those who blamed us for our children’s condition, welcoming us as co-therapists and re-establishing us as normal, feeling, rational human beings. We thank you not only for ourselves and our generation of parents—and children now middle-aged—but for all the parents too young to realize what your work has meant to them—all over the world."

For those wishing to formally honor Eric Schopler’s memory, the family has asked that donations be made in his honor (in lieu of flowers) to three causes that have been especially important to him in recent years. Those are:

The Eric Schopler Endowed Chair in Autism Research
c/o Jean Yardley
Division TEACCH
CB# 7180
University of NC at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7180

The Piedmont Wildlife Center
605-A N.C. Hwy 54W
Chapel Hill, NC 27516

Friends of Tarheel Angels
Department of Pediatrics
University of NC at Chapel Hill
CB# 7220
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7220

A memorial service for Schopler is being planned for early September.

A Celebration of the Life of Dr. Eric Schopler

To remember and celebrate Eric’s life, there will be an informal potluck gathering for friends and family at the Schopler home outside Mebane, NC, on July 15, 2006, starting at 4:00 p.m. Guests are asked to bring their fondest memories of Eric (including photos and mementos, if desired), musical instruments (for those with a musical bent), and a dish and/or beverage to share. There will be an opportunity during the evening for anyone who wishes to say a few words about Eric to speak.

Carpooling is encouraged, as parking space may be limited. As a courtesy, an RSVP to Brenda Denzler ( or (919) 966-8183) or to Joan Berry ( or (919) 966-2173) will help the family to make appropriate plans to accommodate everyone for the evening. Joan and Brenda can also provide directions to the Schopler home.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Autism pioneer Schopler dies at 79


CHAPEL HILL -- Eric Schopler, an international pioneer in the humane and effective treatment of autism, died from esophageal cancer Friday at age 79.

Forty-one years ago, the UNC psychologist co-founded a program that rejected the notion that destructive parents caused autism. Instead, he recognized autism as a brain disorder -- one that could be managed.

He observed that people living with autism did not learn in traditional ways but were capable of learning, especially with customized interventions from therapists, family and teachers.

Those insights led to the development of Division TEACCH -- Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-Handicapped Children -- a network of nine state-funded clinics that are still operating. To this day, families stream to North Carolina to enroll in the TEACCH programs, which have inspired autism therapy programs in countries throughout the world.

"He influenced tens of thousands of people," said Catherine Lord, a prominent University of Michigan psychologist who worked with Schopler in Chapel Hill early in her career.

"Not only did he develop treatment, he had this understanding about what autism is and how it could be treated in the family and broader context of the community and in the schools. That was unique," Lord said.

The child of German parents forced to flee Hitler in the 1930s, Schopler was deeply motivated by injustice, friends and family said Friday. He saw stark unfairness while training in psychology at the University of Chicago with the Freudian psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, who compared the parents of autistic children to concentration camp guards.

But while working with those families, Schopler saw instead caring people who frequently raised normal children in the same household. As a young professor at UNC, he and child psychiatrist Robert J. Reichler MD started a research project that described autism as a brain disorder, not an emotional problem, and developed strategies to help parents accommodate their child's disabilities.

"It was very courageous of him. He came as an assistant professor and took on the whole establishment in his department as well as the whole country," said Gary Mesibov, who took over as executive director at TEACCH after Schopler retired from that post in 1993.

In addition to his wife, Schopler is survived by two sons, Bobby and Tom, and one daughter, Susie, all living in or near Chapel Hill.

If anyone wishes to make a donation in Schopler's name, his family asks that three causes be considered: the Eric Schopler Endowed Chair for Autism Research at UNC-Chapel Hill, the Piedmont Wildlife Center and Friends of the Tarheel Angels, which helps children with cancer.

Staff writer Jean Fisher contributed to this story. Contact staff writer Catherine Clabby at 956-2414 or