I Love to Pretend

I Love to Pretend!

                                                                                                      About Ellen Viola Thalhamer III

When I was in elementary school, I loved to pretend to be a teacher.  My best friend and I would play on a daily basis.  Her name was Mrs. Thompson and mine was Mrs. Fruit.  I believe I always knew I was going to be a teacher when I grew up!

In middle school, I learned about a family who was looking for someone to volunteer to play with their little boy with autism on the weekends.  I signed up and was very eager to start.  Little did I know how difficult this opportunity and experience would be. 

Jake was about 3 years old and had difficulty providing eye contact, attending, and had seizures daily.  I worked with Jake for about a year, but without training from the parents and being a child myself, I started to become disheartened.  I didn’t feel like I was helping him.  I was young and therefore didn’t know how to understand what I had been through, or what Jake was going through.  Even though my weekends with Jake ended, my curiosity didn’t.

In my junior year of high school, I started my teaching career at the Islip Technical Center.  I signed up for their two year program.  The first year, I learned teaching definitions and participated as an assistant teacher at their on site day care.  The second year, I was a student teacher at my old elementary school.  Student teaching as a high school student was very excited and I looked forward to it every day.

In my second year of college, I started to do my observation hour requirements.  I started my observations in special education at the Kramer Learning Center.  After doing some observation hours in a classroom, the school asked if I wanted a job during the summer as a 1:1 for a child with autism.  I was honored to receive this opportunity and fell in love that summer with his big beautiful brown eyes.  After that summer, my goal has been to learn more about teaching children with autism and this goal led me on a wonderful journey. 

In May 2005, I graduated from Saint Joseph’s College with my teaching degree.  (Areas of certification: Initial Early Childhood, B-2, Initial Childhood, 1-6, Students with Disabilities, B-2, and Students with Disabilities, 1-6). 

Immediately upon graduating, I started working at Developmental Disabilities Institute.   I was the teacher of an EI classroom, and then a preschool classroom. I received priceless training while teaching there and I am grateful for the experiences I received. 

            In December 2007, I graduated from Long Island University with a Masters Degree in Special Education.  At this time, I thought I was done with school (woo-hoo), little did I know I had bigger plans for myself!

In 2009 I started working with Achieve Beyond/Bilinguals Inc. as a Parent Trainer, SEIT, team leader and ABA home therapist.  I also founded a non-for-profit sports organization, Team Heroes Inc., for children with autism that year. 

Team Heroes Inc. is an organization run by Special Education Teachers and other dedicated, loving volunteers.  It is run in an ABA type format and modified to fit children’s individual needs.  Parents interact and participate with their children on the field, while Special Education teachers and Volunteers facilitate the experience on the field. It is an integrated setting open to all children with autism and their siblings, between the ages of 3 and 9.  We work on teamwork, passing, eye contact, following directions, sharing, turn taking, waiting, socialization, learning the basic skills of the sport and most of all having fun!

In September 2010, I received my B.C.S.E. (Board Certified Special Education) Certification and started to publish the I Love to Pretend Social Stories Series. 

I Love to Pretend stories were created in order to teach children with autism how to pretend play.  There are three books in the series so far: Let’s Play Doctor, I’m a Daddy, and Let’s Play Cashier.

In September 2012, I received my B.C.B.A. (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certificate.  At that time, I was offered a job as Behavioral Consultant Supervisor at Kidz Therapy.

My experiences throughout my years of teaching include training in ABA, discrete trial teaching and natural teaching.  I have also received training in writing FBAs, BSPs, IEP’s, as well as implementing strategies such as PECS, visual schedules, video modeling, token systems, and many other important strategies in which an ABA teacher should be knowledgeable. 

I love to learn and I thrive from learning new ways to teach and make our world exciting to our students!


Education/Honors:                  Florida Institute of Technology (Online classes)

                                           B.C.B.A. (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) - September 2012

                                                        American Academy of Special Education Professionals

                                           B.C.S.E. (Board Certification in Special Education) - September 2010

                                                        Long Island University, Brentwood, NY

                                          Masters Degree in Special Education (GPA: 3.93) - December 2007

                                                   Saint Joseph’s College, Patchogue, NY

                                                   Bachelors Degree in Child Study (GPA: 3.85) - May 2005

·         Wrote a thesis on students with Autism and the effects of reinforcement on behavior

                                                   Suffolk County Community College, Brentwood, NY 

        Associates Degree in Liberal Arts (GPA: 3.8) - December 2002 


Education-related Work Experience:

                                            Achieve Beyond/Bilinguals Inc., Melville, NY

                                                        May 2008 to present

·         Utilized Applied Behavior Analysis and discrete trial teaching methods while teaching students with disabilities in the home and school environments

·         Provided family training sessions to caregivers of children with autism

·         Lead teacher for early intervention and preschool cases (ran team meetings, created program books, provided for consistency among team members, kept in contact with child’s home school, etc.)

·         Completed Module 2 of the New York State ABA test

·         Conducted Assessments (Day-C, VB-Mapp)

·         Participated in “S.M.P. Program” (Supervisors Mentor Program)

·         Co-conducted a Bilinguals Inc. training with supervisor

·         Embedded PECS, token systems, visual schedules, play schedules, and routine boards into individual students’ daily routines

·         Developed IEPs, BSPs, DROs, and Program Recommendations for student’s individualized curricula

                        Team Heroes Inc. (Nonprofit for children with autism)

                                           Founder, President, Program Director (April 2009-present)

·         Interview and manage Team Heroes Inc. volunteers

·         Run a Saturday sports program for children with autism (March-August)

·         Modify program to meet each child’s individual needs

·         Organize donations and assist in running fundraisers

·         Organize resource fairs, orientations, and board meetings

                  Developmental Disabilities Institute, Ronkonkoma, NY

        Teacher (October 2005 to May 2008)

                                                   Teacher Assistant (May 2005 to September 2005),

·        Completed Module 1 of the New York State ABA test

·         Utilized Applied Behavior Analysis and discrete trial teaching methods while teaching children with autism in an early intervention (1:1 enhanced ratio) and preschool setting (6:1:3.5)

·         Developed a training class with a colleague to train teachers and assistants in behavior intervention techniques and teaching methods

·         Developed a video modeling program for a student

·         Embedded PECS, picture boards, token systems, visual schedules, play schedules, and routine boards into individual students’ daily routines

·         Developed IEPs, SPAMs, BSPs, FBAs, DROs, and Program Recommendations for student’s individualized curricula

·         Wrote progress reports and midyear evaluations based on assessment tests conducted (ELAP, ABLLS, PES)

·         Created teaching techniques and behavioral strategies for two students attending partial day inclusion placements, at an off-site preschool

·         Created and utilized social stories and interactive teaching stories

·         Utilized music to desensitize students to sounds and decrease self-stimulatory behavior (student specific)

·         Trained parents (hands-on) on ABA techniques and theories