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A meaningful life journey: Empowering those with autism

With a child requiring 24/7 care, The Chicago School’s focus and format allowed Rhonda Greenhaw to turn her dedication into a career.

Having a young daughter on the autism spectrum required 24/7 care. So when Rhonda J. Greenhaw discovered the online master’s program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP), it was just the flexible opportunity she needed to delve into the subject that became her life’s work.

Today, Greenhaw empowers those with autism and leads the way to new possibilities, new mind-sets, and a world of hope.

One of the first to graduate from TCSPP’s online program, Greenhaw is now a board certified behavioral analyst and one of the nation’s leading clinicians in the field of autism.

“When I had my daughter, my purpose centered on helping her and understanding her challenges. I became laser-focused on autism,” says Greenhaw, a Flint, Mich., native who is currently working on her third degree from The Chicago School’s online program. “Being the parent of a child with a disability, one of us always had to be home with her—my husband or myself. The Chicago School’s intensive online program provided me with an avenue to access the credentials to help me develop a niche in the field while caring for my family. I was able to infuse my interest in autism into the curriculum, which was extremely valuable. Getting Board Certified Behavior Analyst (B.C.B.A.) certification and working with adults on the spectrum, I’ve been on the frontier.”

Leading The Field

One of the first to graduate from TCSPP’s online program, Greenhaw is now a board certified behavioral analyst and one of the nation’s leading clinicians in the field of autism. Before founding the Milwaukee-based clinic she operates today, she developed the Hussman Center for Adults with Autism at Towson University in Maryland into one of the largest university-based centers in the world.

“We developed a 7,000-square foot facility that we filled with innovative programming—from art courses and wellness programs to cooking classes and life skills. We also had really cutting edge programming like vocational skills and even a comedy workshop,” Greenhaw explains. “The impetus before had always been children with autism, and this was the first to have autistic adults as the focus and the impetus of the programming.”

These achievements led to her role as a professional fellow for the U.S. State Department through its Empowerment Project, which including a diplomatic trip to the cities of Novi Sad and Belgrade in Serbia.

“I traveled to Serbia with the state department’s Mobility USA project team. The goal was to increase capacity in the Serbian disability rights organization to use social media as a means of organizing their community,” Greenhaw adds. “Another thing I’m proud of that we started at that time was Baltimore’s first disability film festival. These films were created by people with disabilities, many on the autism spectrum. It was a lot of fun and really resonated with our community, who are not often depicted in film.”

She has become a champion for their cause, advocating for those like her daughter, who don’t always have a voice.

After three career-changing years at the Hussman Center, Greenhaw returned to Milwaukee to found Advancing Abilities of Wisconsin. In addition to serving as the agency’s Chief Clinical Officer, Greenhaw is also pursuing an International Psychology Ph.D. through The Chicago School’s online program. She recently traveled to Indonesia as part of her doctoral research to study cultural variation in autism from the perspective of individuals on the spectrum.

Rhonda J. Greenhaw - M.A. Psychology '09, B.C.B.A. '10

“Society has all of these hallmarks about what we think intelligence looks like, and what we think a valuable human contribution looks like,” says Greenhaw, reflecting on her experience both as a practitioner and a parent. “Families get very depressed when their child manifests in a different way. The thing I find most inspiring is helping families recognize the capacity that’s inherent in their children that society has told them isn’t there. But it is there. They just have to look at it in a different way.”

She has become a champion for their cause, advocating for those like her daughter, who don’t always have a voice.

Journey comes full circle

“Our understanding of intelligence is very flawed. One thing that this population can convey is that people with disabilities or on the spectrum are more like us than not. And that humanity has lots of different forms,” adds Greenhaw, who touches on these topics in the ethics class she teaches as an adjunct professor for The Chicago School’s Applied Behavior Analysis program. “Everyone wants the same thing. People on the spectrum want to be treated with respect, they want to be valued, and they want to have meaningful lives contributing to the world.”

It is a journey that has come full circle, a journey she says would not have been possible without the flexibility and hands-on experiences she had, and continues to have, at The Chicago School.

“I consider myself a clinician, but I’m also an advocate in the neurodiversity movement, looking at autism as another manifestation of the human experience,” she says. “Autism is often portrayed as a collection of deficits. But when you get to know people on the spectrum, their differences add wonderful perspective to life. I wouldn’t trade the young people I work with for anything.”


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