Elaine Berkley, MSW

Elaine Berkley has over forty years of professional experience with special needs children and their families.  Soon after receiving her masters degree in social work from Wayne State University, Elaine took a school social work position with a school district in Michigan.  During the seven years that she remained in that position Elaine had the opportunity to learn how schools and classrooms function and to be an active member of multidisciplinary teams.

During her long career Elaine has held the position of National Director of Aid to the Adoption of Special Kids (AASK,) developed and administered a foster care agency which cared for up to seventy therapeutic foster children/teens at any one time.  She has trained as a custody mediator and provided family mediation.  Elaine held the position of Executive Director of the Autism Society of America, Greater Phoenix Chapter. For many years Elaine has provided social skills groups for children and adolescents and continues to look forward to the summer when she is again provides groups.  She is a frequent trainer and speaker both in the areas of special education and autism spectrum disorder.  Elaine has been involved in special education advocacy in the Phoenix area for over fifteen years. Prior to moving to Phoenix Elaine had an additional twenty-five years of experience with advocacy and social groups for children and teens.

Elaine has extensive experience in advocacy and understands that it is particularly confusing and stressful to navigate the various federal, state and local organizations in health, education, and government.  The IEP process and special education issues are Elaine's specialty.  She has attended thousands of IEP meetings and has provided service to well over 700 families in her career. Elaine has a strong working understanding of both the content and intent of IDEA. Elaine's expertise is in her ability to look at creative solutions to services for children, with special needs, in the least restrictive school setting. She has had the opportunity to visit and research multitudes of schools, programs, classrooms, and individual plans for special education children/teens. While doing so she has developed the ability to envision the combining of services and opportunities that best meet the needs of a specific child. Elaine's method of advocacy is through helping parents to become active members of their child's IEP team.  She utilizes approaches that puts the child's needs first; recognizing that almost anything is possible; and helps all parties to focus not just on what has been done but on what can be done. She recognizes when compromise is in the child's best interest and understands the educational process both as an advocate, parent, and as a former school social worker.

Elaine's advocacy practice tends to be unique.  As a highly trained and experienced social worker Elaine believes that the way to optimize her service to families and children is to get to know them prior to attending a meeting. It's Elaine's preference to meet with families at their home where she can observe and interact with their children.  This provides an opportunity for her to form some clear impressions of the child outside of the classroom and to provide referrals to families if she observes something which makes her question the school's description of the child. In addition she often observes one or more times in the classroom, interviews teachers, talks with support staff, and gathers other information that will help her to best support the needs of the child and family. Families know their child best and it's Elaine's intent to listen carefully to what parents want for their child.

Elaine has attended IEP meetings in all of the large school districts and most of the smaller school districts in the area. She has developed connections with special education directors, psychologists, teachers, and support personnel.  This is useful as the district knows what to expect from her and have almost always had positive previous interactions with Elaine.  At the same time, Elaine works diligently to obtain what a child needs even if this may require the family to take steps beyond the IEP process.  Fortunately this rarely occurs.

In an IEP meeting Elaine is a highly experienced and knowledgeable member of the IEP team.  She has an understanding of most areas of academic needs and behaviors and is considered an expert in many areas of special needs. She is able to ask meaningful questions and offer recommendations.  Elaine rarely finds it necessary to become confrontational at meetings. It is best for everyone that the meeting remains calm and that members feel that their opinions are heard.  She is usually the most experienced person at the IEP meeting and is seen as the expert in numerous areas.  Keeping the parents and the school staff in non-combative positions, while getting what the child needs, allows the family to continue working with teachers and support staff after meetings are concluded.

No matter what is put in writing at a meeting the question always remains whether or not staff are in compliance with the IEP goals and accommodations.  To check this Elaine may observe one or more times in the classroom, interview teachers, talk with support services, and gather other information that will help her to best support the needs of the child and family.

Elaine is the parent of two adult children.  She has experience as a foster parent and as an adoptive parent.  Her daughter is currently a high school science teacher in a private school for children with severe dyslexia and is applying to medical school.  Her son is highly gifted and on the Autism Spectrum.  It is due to his special needs that Elaine gathered extensive expertise in the area of autism spectrum disorder.  As his advocate she knows the emotions and energy involved in advocating for one's child. Elaine will tell you that she always had another person attend her son's meetings with her because the emotional impact on advocating for one's own child often made it difficult to observe and process all that goes on in a meeting. Her son has attended college and although he doesn't have enough credits in a major to graduate he remains an avid learner.  The very good news... he's engaged to be married to a wonderful woman with whom he's had a relationship for over six years. When he was being sent home from school for meltdown behavior and work refusal the family may have had questions whether this day would come.





Association Member                                                           2000 to Current 

Arizona Advocates, Phoenix, Arizona

Arizona Advocates is an association of special education advocates who maintain their own practices but who work collaboratively together to gain and provide information.  The members may attend meetings for each other and often jointly provide speaking or training opportunities.  The group allows each member to gain valuable help from each other’s experiences and backgrounds.  

Executive Director      

Frogs Landing, Phoenix, Arizona

Frogs Landing is a member of Arizona Advocates and is a social service agency dedicated to providing social skills, behavioral management, and school consultation and advocacy services to children with diverse learning styles and their families. Have provided advocacy services to over 700 families, attended thousands of IEP meetings, and worked with every major school district and smaller districts in the Phoenix area.

Executive Director                                                                                 2001 to 2003

Greater Phoenix Chapter, Autism Society of America, Phoenix, Arizona

GPC-ASA is the local chapter of the largest not for profit agency in the country serving families of autistic children. Provided outreach to new families, developed fund raising, and wrote grants.

Chief Executive Officer                   1993 to 2001

A Caring Model Environment, Inc. (ACME for Kids), Las Vegas, Nevada

ACME was one of the largest foster care agencies in Nevada providing services for at risk youth and special needs children and teenagers. Provided IEP direction for up to seventy youth per year.  In 2001 ACME successfully merged with a national foster care agency.

Executive Director                     1990 to 1994

Elaine Dawson Associates, Inc., Las Vegas, Nevada

Elaine Dawson Associates provided individual and group counseling services to children and families, specializing in nontraditional families and special needs children.  

Manager, Employment Compliance Programs

Manager, Employee Relations                     1984 to 1990

Holmes and Narver, Inc., then Raytheon Services Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada

Holmes and Narver and its successor company Raytheon Services Nevada, were prime contractors to the Department of Energy.  Provided services to a workforce of 1,200 persons in multiple states and locations including Hawaii and Johnston Atoll.

Executive Director                     1981 to 1984

Family Mediators, Inc., Las Vegas, Nevada

Family Mediators, Inc. was the first divorce and custody mediation agency in Nevada.  The    agency also provided marriage and family counseling services specializing in nontraditional and special needs families.                   

Executive Director for Nevada, then National Director                      1978 to 1981

Aid to Adoption of Special Kids (AASK), Oakland, California

Aid to Adoption of Special Kids, was at that time, a national adoption agency specializing in the adoption of older children, special needs children, and sibling groups. Along with executive duties, provided training and consultation to families and agencies including educational issues of special needs children.

School Social Worker                     1969 to 1975

Warren Consolidated School District, Warren, Michigan

Warren Consolidated Schools utilized social workers in K-8 education. Specialized in parenting groups, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities.

Additional experiences and positions prior to master's degree attainment upon request



Master of Social Work  1969

Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

Bachelor of Arts   1967

Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

Certification in Adoption Services   1973

University of Southern California,  Los Angeles, California


Published in the February 2005 edition of Autism/Asperger's Digest



The total of my career has been focused on the development and implementation of programs to aid in the improvement of the quality of family life.  I have expertise as both a clinician and administrator in family systems; family preservation, foster care and adoption; parent training, human development from early childhood through late adolescents; family-school relations with a specialty in school placement, the IEP process; and developmental disabilities. For over seven years I developed, funding, implemented, and administered foster care group homes for children and youths. Until 2001 I maintained a small private social work practice. I am practiced in both individual and group therapy although I am no longer licensed or practice in that field.   My work has been innovative, client centered, and mindful of budgetary constraints in the human services field.  As the first director for the Phoenix Chapter of the National Autism Society, I developed new outreach programs and fundraising to expand services in the community.  As director of Frogs Landing, I provide and/or supervise services specifically for families with children with special needs.  This includes informational and referral services; social skills groups for children; training for parents with newly diagnosed special needs children; and for parents with newly diagnosed special needs children; and for parents with children experiencing behavioral issues at home and in school.  I personally provide or supervise consultation to families to obtain appropriate special education services through the IEP process including IEP attendance, classroom observations, and consultation with families to assist in their decisions about their child's academic future.


With the exception of seven years, when I worked in the private sector, my 35 year career has been involved  in  work with  youth.  I  have expertise  in  human growth and  development  from early childhood through adolescents. My knowledge has been put to use in years of both administrative and hands-on experience working with, counseling, and supervising children and teens. While director of ACME for Kids I lived with 14 special needs boys for over two years. During that time I acted as clinical director and directly provided counseling and therapy and/or supervised counselors. My work has been innovative, child centered, and mindful of both budgetary responsibilities and liabilities.   My ability to relate to, listen to, and talk with children, including at risk teen-agers, has been recognized as outstanding. At the same time, I command respect and appropriate behavior from children and teenagers.  I have expertise in behavioral interventions and management and have trained and consulted in this area.  For the past twelve years, I have specialized in work with autism spectrum youth.


I began my career with seven years of school social work experience. As a school social worker in the Warren Consolidated School District, I was a member of the group that developed the first interdisciplinary team to provide special education services. This was adapted by the State of Michigan as it developed its IEP format.   Since that time, I have provided consultation and training in the area of special needs to both parents and teachers on an ongoing basis. As a member of the IEP team for hundreds of children, I have gained expertise in what competency and appropriateness in special education placement means and how it can be implemented.  In the past ten years I have worked with a large number of teachers and educational aids to implement successful behavioral plans and special needs accommodations in their classrooms.

Other Information

My administrative experience has allowed me numerous years of  management, supervision, and training of child care workers, recreational therapists, marriage and family counselors, and social workers.  I have sat on the boards of five nonprofit agencies, provided consultation for nonprofit agencies, and have been a member of professional study and planning groups.

 I have parented five children including a magnificent son who is on the Autism Spectrum and a daughter with attention deficit disorder.  In addition I am an adoptive parent and have been a foster parent. I am highly knowledgeable in the area of community resources for special needs youth.

Additional information concerning my experience providing training and consultation to agencies and schools; groups who have engaged me as a speaker or trainer; as well as information regarding my own extensive ongoing continuing education experiences will be provided upon request.