#Changemakers in the Disabilities Community: Carolyn Garver

Dr. Carolyn Garver // photo Hunter Lacey
Dr. Carolyn Garver // photo Hunter Lacey

In 1979 Dr. Carolyn Garver began working at the Autism Treatment Center in Dallas. Today, she is its program director. “When I look in the mirror, I think, ‘You didn’t look like this when you started,’” Carolyn recalled with a laugh. “I’ve been working with autism since 1973. I tell people I’m the Betty White of autism.”

After completing her masters at University of North Texas, Dr. Garver started working with fellow Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) forerunners. At the time, ABA was in its nascence, and Dr. Garver believed wholeheartedly in what it could do for individuals with autism. ABA is a type of therapy that focuses on improving certain behaviors like social skills, verbal communication, fine motor skills, hygiene and punctuality. It is catered to the individual based on how high their functioning capacity is.

“I thought – and think – behavior is incredibly important, and how we manage it is important. [For] our kids who are nonverbal, behavior is communication. Are they having sensory issues? What are they trying to tell me?” Dr. Garver shared.

After working at Dallas County MHMR (Mental Health and Mental Retardation) and the Center for Behavioral Studies, and earning a PhD in Health Studies, Dr. Garver found herself at the Autism Treatment Center to take over a position that had just been vacated. “I started out just helping them with licensing, then I was a residential coordinator, then assistant director and now director,” she said.

Dr. Garver with autism treatment individual // courtesy Autism Treatment Center
Dr. Garver with autism treatment individual // courtesy Autism Treatment Center

Dr. Garver said she has always been drawn to people who are different. She finds beauty in each person’s unique qualities, and she is excited by the chance to learn something new from someone with a different perspective. Because of that, she said working in the special needs community is the perfect fit for her. She’s had the chance to learn something new every single day for over 40 years now.

“I’ve never had two days alike here. I like seeing people achieve things; I like to see people succeed. Our individuals need our help, but they can achieve things we wouldn’t have thought possible,” Dr. Garver shared. “With the right support and education, you don’t know what they could achieve. Don’t count anyone out.”

Just like the team at the Autism Treatment Center, the team at Plano’s My Possibilities believes in empowering individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities to reach their highest potential. My Possibilities is working on a project in conjunction with Texas Women’s University to support transition-age individuals with disabilities gain advocacy skills to better direct their future, a program the Autism Treatment Center will participating in.

“We have children with us that are wards of the state and some of them go to public school, so some of our kids will be transitioning from high school into the program,” Dr. Garver said.

“Dr. Garver is one of a kind. She’s dedicated her life to working with and better understanding individuals with disabilities,” said Michael Thomas, executive director for My Possibilities. “We look forward to the transition program and collaborating with someone with such passion for the disabilities community.”

In this field, the small gestures are just as important as the large accomplishments. “We have a kid who, at one point, wanted to be an architect,” Dr. Garver shared. “We have a board member who was an architect, and we brought the kid over to the office and set him up for a day in the office. He built a bunch of arena models, and then we took him out for lunch.”

She has dedicated her life to this work because she wants individuals with special needs to accomplish things they normally wouldn’t be able to without support. Life as a child or adult with special needs holds adversity and frustration that most people cannot comprehend. To have a team of capable individuals supporting them is, for these individuals, to be given the tools to build a life filled with community, education and, for many, meaningful employment.

“I’m a hopeful person. Even in some of the most serious cases, I’m still hopeful. I hold onto the positive, even if at the beginning it’s just a morsel. You never know what they can achieve,” remarked Dr. Garver.

My Possibilities > Autism Treatment Center >


The above content is sponsored. We have partnered with My Possibilities to spotlight #Changemakers in the disabilities community.

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