The Autism Place experience preps psychology alum for private practice
Joseph Gentry ’01, Ph.D. ’06, met his future wife, Sarah Gentry, ’01, at Illinois State University when they were both undergraduate students. Their shared passion for helping children with autism would eventually evolve into a lifelong calling for both of them.
Gentry became interested in working with children with autism after getting to know some of the kids his future wife worked with. He was a psychology major, while she was a special education major. After graduation, Gentry continued her work with children with autism in the Unit 5 school district, while Joe spent all four years of his doctoral studies in school psychology working at The Autism Place (TAP) at Illinois State. The couple has since gone on to form a thriving private practice in Arizona where they continue to focus on childhood autism.
When the Gentrys started in private practice almost nine years ago, it was just the two of them. Their professional partnership has since grown into a mid-sized private practice with four psychologists, five board certified behavior analysts, and 12 behavior technicians. According to Gentry, his doctoral training at Illinois State played a big role in his future success in independent practice.
“While I never had any direct instruction about running a private practice,” said Gentry. “My coursework and experiences in the school psychology Ph.D. program at ISU were so well thought out, intensive, and well rounded, I was able to focus on learning this new skill set without having to worry about my skills as a new psychologist.”
Gentry Pediatric Behavioral Services is now a full-scale child psychology practice that treats children age zero to 18. They offer a wide range of services, including educational and psychological evaluations, counseling, and direct treatment for everything from depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities to ADHD and other mood disorders. The Gentrys have also continued to work with children with autism, offering a diagnostic clinic within their practice that focuses on diagnosing very young children (between the ages of 2 and 5). Their behavior team also offers applied behavioral analysis (ABA) for patients with autism, both in schools and in the home.
The Gentrys have recently extended their work beyond private practice and into the public sector with their recently founded non-profit, The Gentry Foundation for Autism. The foundation’s mission is to ensure that all children with autism have access to the early intervention necessary to provide them with meaningful educational experiences and a better quality of life, regardless of their race, culture, religion, or economic status.
Gentry spent most of his time at TAP working with its director, Karla Doepke, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology.
“It was clear from the time Joe Gentry walked into my office for the first time that he would go far,” said Doepke. “His enthusiasm was contagious. I had the pleasure of working with him as we developed an autism service at Illinois State, and Joe was clearly a cheerleader and a leader of this service. His commitment to working with these children was evident, but what was more impressive was the ease with which he interacted with families, school personnel, and other professionals to garner support for these children. During his graduate school career at ISU, Joe was recognized as a champion for the local children with autism.”
Gentry has his own fond memories of his alma mater and its community. He grew up in Normal before completing his undergraduate degree, meeting his wife, and then graduating from Illinois State with both his Ph.D. and a passion for helping youth with autism.
“Most of what I have accomplished personally and professionally is in some way or another directly related to Illinois State University,” said Gentry.