James Madison University

SW Alumna Facilitating Growth in Autism Services

By: Dina Manco '16
Posted: April 6, 2016

The Social Work Department opens a variety of different career paths to students. Alee LaCalamito (’13) has carried her social work skills into the field of behavioral health. She is currently helping people with developmental issues such as Autism and Down Syndrome develop independent living skills and manage interfering and aggressive behaviors. Her days are spent working one-on-one with them while also teaching their families about methods to encourage higher levels of autonomy. She completes these tasks under the title Applied Behavior Analyst Therapist and Parent Liaison for Therapeutic Alliance LLC in Manassas, VA. While Therapeutic Alliance has been in business for six years, Autism Behavior Services (ABS), the branch LaCalamito works with, was created three years ago due to the growing need in the community. She comments, “The number of children being diagnosed with Autism is rising rapidly. It’s about one out of every 68 kids.”

PHOTO: Alee LaCalamito

LaCalamito’s tasks include behavior intervention, family education, crisis management, and coaching people on Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s). This includes teaching her clients social, safety, and academic skills to advance their independence and quality of life. She has experience working with people as young as three years old to 17 years old on tasks such as appropriate conversation skills, brushing their own teeth, and maladaptive behavior reduction. She sees about ten different people per week and they are discharged from services when they are able to complete all tasks in their treatment plans without assistance. In some cases, it can take over a year of therapy to achieve these goals. Prior to this position, she worked at Therapeutic Alliance as a Mental Health Support Counselor.

LaCalamito says, “The great thing about social work is that it is very broad. You can work one-on-one with people, you can work with communities, you can work at the international level, et cetera. The types of people and problems that you can help range…I’ve worked with hoarders, homeless people, heroin addicts—a diverse set of individuals. It increased my skill set because I’ve worked with so many different populations.”

Working for Therapeutic Alliance has also given her the opportunity to obtain a variety of certifications. She has earned credentials such as Behavior Instructor and Trainer for Autism and Registered Behavior Therapist while she continues her studies to become a Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst.

Transitioning from a student to professional was a challenging adjustment for LaCalamito, but she comments “I am fortunate that my undergraduate experiences through the Social Work Program afforded me the confidence, skills and connections to enter into the work force in a new city and be able to adapt and excel rather quickly.”

The Social Work program also educated her on the range of careers available to suit her passions. “We had classes that were more psychology based, advocacy based, and research based,” she says. LaCalamito stresses that it is key to keep an open mind when considering different aspects of Social Work to explore. She adds, “You are not limited to one specific type of social work. All my professors were really dedicated to helping us transition to the professional world, or the next phase of our education—whichever path you decided.”

LaCalamito plans to pursue a Master’s in Public Health degree to study mental health disease prevention. She hopes that adding this knowledge to her skills as a social worker and counselor will enhance her ability to serve her clients.