Michael Alessandri

Clinical Professor of Psychology
Executive Director, UM Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 1992

Autism/Developmental Disorders


Dr. Michael Alessandri is the Executive Director of the University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-NSU CARD). Dr. Alessandri has been a professor at UM since 1996 and has worked with individuals with autism and their families since 1981 in various capacities.  He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Rochester, and obtained his MS and Ph.D. in Psychology from Rutgers University. At the University of Miami, Dr. Alessandri, in addition to his other roles, also serves as the Department of Psychology’s Assistant Chairman for Community Outreach and Engagement. 

Dr. Alessandri has presented, consulted and published internationally on developing appropriate and effective educational programs for students with autism. In addition, he has received numerous research and service grants (totaling over $30 million) and several notable awards within the field including the Autism Society of America’s Wendy F. Miller Autism Professional of the Year Award and National Autism Program of the Year for UM-NSU CARD. 

Dr. Alessandri has also received numerous other community service awards, including the March of Dimes Community Excellence in Health Care Award (2007), the Health Services Coalition Outstanding Community Leader Award (2009), and the Parent to Parent Excellence in Family Advocacy Award (2010). He was also named one of the Ronald McDonald House's 12 Good Men (2008) and the Dewar's 12 Man of Distinction (2007). In 2012, he was selected by the Children's Trust as the David Lawrence Champion for Children, one of South Florida’s highest honors for community service.  In 2016, Dr. Alessandri was named the Visionary Leader of the Year by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce; and in 2017, he was recognized by the Dade County Bar Association with the Fostering Inclusion and Diversity Award.

Dr. Alessandri has worked tirelessly to grow UM-NSU CARD from an organization with one office, three staff, and several hundred clients to a multi-site, multi-disciplinary network serving over 10,000 clients in South Florida.  Recognizing the fact that his clients were quickly moving into adulthood, Dr. Alessandri and his team expanded UM-NSU CARD services to include unique services and programs for teenagers and adults.  Included among these initiatives is a grant funded project aimed at “awakening the autism entrepreneur” which will engage adults with autism, their family members, and the business community in efforts to promote innovative and sustainable business models and work opportunities for adults on the autism spectrum.

Dr. Alessandri's career has been spent in academic settings where he has balanced his interests in research, teaching, and community service with a unique content focus on autism spectrum disorders. His current role as clinical professor of psychology and executive director of the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities allows him to maintain that balance of building systems of care for individuals on the autism spectrum and their family members while also contributing as a team member to building the evidence-base that supports such care.  In terms of his collaborative scientific contributions, t they can be broadly conceptualized as belonging to three categories:  (1) the evaluation of specific behavior analytic instructional procedures for teaching individual learners with autism; (2) the assessment of more comprehensive school-based and clinic-based treatment packages for individuals with autism; and (3) the exploration of family issues as they pertain to autism spectrum disorders.  Citations exemplifying each of these categories are noted below

Evaluating Behavior Analytic Instructional Procedures

Although treatments based on the principles of applied behavior analysis were once just considered promising practices, research has now demonstrated that these practices are indeed evidence-based. My work as a graduate student, junior faculty member, and now senior faculty member adds to this body of literature and enhances our understanding of specific applications of applied behavior analysis to unique learning challenges in autism spectrum disorder. In the most significant paper noted below, I have demonstrated, with my colleagues, that behavior analytic instructional strategies can be used to teach youth with autism to acquire the social behavior of offering assistance to others.

Harris, S.L., Handleman, J.S., & Alessandri, M. (1990). Teaching youths with autism to offer assistance.  Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 297-306.

Handleman, J.S., Harris, S.L., Fong, P., Gill, M.J., & Alessandri, M. (1990).  The acquisition of color identification by students with autism.  The Learning Consultant Journal, 11, 50-52

Gutierrez, A., Hale, M.N., O’Brien, H.A., Fischer, A.J., Durocher, J.S., & Alessandri, M. (2009). Evaluating the effectiveness of two commonly used discrete trial procedures for teaching receptive discrimination to young children with autism spectrum disorders.  Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 3, 630-638.

Gutierrez, A., Fischer, A.J., Hale, M.N., Durocher, J.S., & Alessandri, M. (2013). Differential response patterns to the control condition between two procedures to assess social reinforcers for children with autism. Behavioral Interventions, 28 (4), 353-361.

Evaluating School-based and Clinic-based Interventions for Autism

My active involvement in school- and community-based consultation, support, and program development, through my work at the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, contributed to a growing interest in studying broader intervention packages for individuals living with autism across the lifespan, including preschool-based interventions and interventions aimed at reducing anxiety in adolescents.  As site PI for a multi-site comparative efficacy study of preschool intervention models, I, along with our collaborative research team, was eager to contribute to the scientific discussion aimed at understanding how widely used school-based interventions compare with each other. In our most prominent work, our collaborative research team found no notable differences in outcome for students in high fidelity TEACCH, LEAP or Business as Usual classroom models. This paper was named as one of 20 top advances in ASD research for 2013 by the Interagency Autism Coordinating Council (IACC).

Hume, K., Boyd, B., McBee, M., Coman, D., Gutierrez, A., Shaw, E., Sperry, L., Alessandri, M., & Odom, S. (2011). Assessing implementation of comprehensive treatment models for young children with ASD:  Reliability and validity of two measures.  Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 1430-1440.

Coman, D., Alessandri, M., Gutierrez, A., Novotny, S., Boyd, B., Hume, K., Sperry, L., & Odom, S.  (2013). Commitment to Classroom Model Philosophy and Burnout Symptoms Among High Fidelity Teachers Implementing Preschool Programs for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43 (2), 345-360.

Boyd, B.A., Hume, K., McBee, M.T., Alessandri, M., Gutierrez, A., Johnson, L., Sperry, L., & Odom, S.L. (2014). Comparative efficacy of LEAP, TEACCH and non-model-specific special education   programs for preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(2), 366-380.

Ehrenreich-May, J., Storch, E.A., Queen, A.H., Hernandez Rodriguez, J., Ghilain, C., Alessandri, M., Lewin, A.B., Arnold, E.B., Murphy, T.K., Enjey Lin, C., Fujii, C., Renno, P.,  Piacentini, J.C., Laugeson, E., & Wood, J.J. (2014). An open trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.  Focus on Autism and Development Disorders29(3), 145-155.

Wood, J.J., Ehrenreich-May, J., Alessandri, M., Fujii, C., Renno, P., Laugeson, E., Piacentini, J.C., De Nadai, A.S., Arnold, E., Lewin, A.B., Murphy, T.K., & Storch, E.A. (2014).  Cognitive behavioral therapy for early adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and clinical anxiety:  A randomized, controlled trial.  Behavior Therapy. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2014.01.002

Boyd, B.A., Watson, L.R., Reszka, S.S., Sideris, J., Alessandri, M., Baranek, G.T., Crais, E.R., Donaldson, A., Gutierrez, A., Johnson, L., & Belardi, K. (2018). Efficacy of the ASAP intervention for preschoolers with ASD:  A Cluster randomized controlled trial.  https:doi.org/10.1007/s10803-018-3584-z

 Family Issues Related to Autism

Family adaptation and coping has been a long-standing interest of mine since my early graduate years.  Motivated by the experience of directly observing the unique challenges and strengths of families affected by autism, I have pursued this interest throughout my professional career in various ways.  Most notably and recently, I have been PI on a series of family studies with a uniquely positive focus on parental adaptation and coping.  Our work demonstrates that there are (a) protective factors in parents of children with autism that should be studied further and incorporated into treatment packages and (b) that some of these factors may vary uniquely by gender and ethnicity.

Handleman, J.S., Harris. S.L., & Alessandri, M. (1990).  Mothers, fathers, teachers, and speech therapists as assessors of treatment outcome for children with autism.  Education and Treatment of Children, 13, 153-158.

Cuccaro, M.L., Czape, K., Alessandri, M., Lee, J., Rupchock, A., Bendik, E., Dueker, N., Nations, L., Pericak-Vance, M., & Hahn, S. (In press). Genetic testing and services for autism spectrum disorder (ASD):  Parent beliefs and experiences.  American Journal of Medical Genetics, DOI: 10.1002/ajmg.a.36698

Ekas, N.V., Timmons, L., Pruitt, M., Ghilain, C.S., & Alessandri, M.  (2015). The power of positivity:  Predictors of relationship satisfaction for parents of children with autism spectrum disorder.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID:  25601217.

Ekas, N.V., Ghilain, C., Pruitt, M.G., Celimli, S, Gutierrez, A., & Alessandri, M. (2016). The role of family cohesion in the psychological adjustment of non-Hispanic White and Hispanic mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder.  Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders21, 10-24.

Willis, K., Timmons, L., Pruitt, M., Schneider, H.L., Alessandri, M., Ekas, N.V. (2016). The relationship between optimism, coping, and depressive symptoms in Hispanic mothers and fathers of children with ASD.  Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 46(4).  DOI 10.1007/s10803-016-2776-7

Other Areas of Interest in Autism

Tuchman, R., Alessandri, M., & Cuccaro, M. (2010). Autism spectrum disorders and epilepsy: Moving towards a comprehensive approach to treatment. Brain and Development, 32, 719-730.

Tuchman, R., Cuccaro, M., & Alessandri, M. (2010). Autism and epilepsy: Historical perspective. Brain and Development, 32, 709-718.

Ghilain, C.S., Parlade, M.V., McBee, M.T., Owen, T., Coman, D.C., Gutierrez, M., Boyd, B.A., Odom, S., Alessandri, M. (2016). Validation of the Pictorial Infant Communication Scale for preschool-aged children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice, DOI: 10.1.1177/1362361316636757

Coman, D.C., Bass, M.P., Alessandri, M., Ghilain, C.S., & Llabre, M.M. (2017).  Effect of equine-assisted activities on social and sensory functioning of children with autism.  Society and Animals, 1-25.

Alessandri, M., & Schneider, H.L. (2018). History of autism and autism spectrum disorders.  In E. Braaten (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of intellectual and developmental disorders.  CA:  SAGE Publications, Inc.  DOI:  http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781483392271.n45

SPARK Consortium. SPARK: A US cohort of 50,000 families to accelerate autism research. Neuron 97, 488-493 (2018).

Other Non-Autism Areas of Interest

Cullen, J.M., Wright, L.W., & Alessandri, M. (2002). The personality variable openness to experience as it relates to homophobia. The Journal of Homosexuality, 42(4), 119-134.

Keating, L.M., Tomishima, M.A., Foster, S., & Alessandri, M. (2002). The effects of a mentoring program on at-risk youth. Adolescence, 37(148), 717-734.