He received his doctorate in 1984 at the age of 60. He earned a master’s degree in special education, speech pathology, and psychology from Ohio University, which earned him more credibility with the people he lobbied for.
His brutal but gentle defensive style continued until his retirement in 2007.
“Guiding families nationally was frankly amazing,” he said. Stephen Edelson Executive director of the Autism Research Institute. “But he was also one of the first to mention medical comorbidities associated with autism, such as seizures, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal issues. And he was one of the first to point out the importance of serving adults with autism.”
Jimmie Beirne, CEO of the Center for Autism Services (the position that Dr. Sullivan held from 1979 to 2007), was hired 33 years ago to work part-time with Joseph to improve his social skills.
Dr. “The philosophy he worked so hard to instill in us was to have a parent’s perspective, to think as if we were our child receiving these services,” Beirne said over the phone. “He used to say that the difference between good and excellent service is in the details, and he pays attention to details like a good coach.”
Today, Joseph lives in a group home run by the Autism Services Center and works at the Autism Education Center.
In addition to Joseph and his daughter Lydia, Dr. He was survived by Sullivan’s other sons, Larry, Richard, and Christopher; her other daughters, Julie Sullivan and Eva Sullivan, who wrote a book about her mother; her sisters Geraldine Landry, Frances Buckingham and Julie Miller; his brother Charles; 12 grandchildren; and four grandchildren.
Dr. Sullivan’s influence was international. He has received letters from parents around the world seeking solutions for their children and has traveled a lot to talk about autism.
“He was invited to a conference on autism in Argentina in the 1990s,” his daughter Julie said over the phone. “At the time Argentina was in the grip of the ‘refrigerator mom’ thing and met with the parents and told them they needed to start their own band. So the godmother of an autistic family group in Argentina.”