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Finding a Better Way: Meet Dr. Wesley Dotson

“There has got to be a better way.” It was a thought that went through Wesley Dotson’s head many times during his early years as a special educator. Hired out of college to teach special education for high schoolers in Oklahoma, Dotson was familiar with the job. His mother taught special education for 32 years. But being the only man on the special education staff at his school, Dotson was often relied upon to perform forced restraint for students in crisis. It was a calling he did not enjoy.

a photo of wes dotson

“I knew that what they were asking me to do, to physically restrain kids who were having severe behavioral issues, was not the way to help these kids,” Dotson said. “I started searching for different strategies and trainings for dealing with and solving behavioral problems.”

That’s when Dotson found Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). He was so enamored with the promise of the therapy that he quit his job and enrolled in the University of Kansas, where he earned his masters and doctoral degrees in ABA and behavioral psychology.

“It was so clear to me that ABA was a much better way to treat behavioral problems in kids with special needs, especially kids with autism,” Dotson said.

After earning his degrees, Dr. Dotson spent the next 10 years at the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research at Texas Tech University—the last seven as the director. There he led an autism center that performed ABA and psychological services for West Texas children. That is when the Thompson Center came calling.

“The opportunity to join the Thompson Center was impossible to pass up,” Dotson said. “While the Burkhart Center was able to impact families in West Texas, the Thompson Center truly has a national reach. The amount of need, not only in Missouri, but nationwide for effective autism services is monumental, so to join such an established, national center where I can help make that kind of an impact was an obvious decision for me.”

Dr. Dotson joined the Thompson Center in August to serve as the Director of Applied Behavior Intervention Services (ABIS). Dr. Dotson will lead the ABA program at the Thompson Center, as well as the ABA master’s program within the University of Missouri College of Education.

“Another huge draw for me to the Thompson Center and Mizzou was the opportunity to train the next generation of ABA providers while also helping families directly through the Thompson Center’s ABIS clinics,” Dotson said.

“We are so excited to have Dr. Dotson join us because of his considerable expertise in the area of Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as his leadership at an ABA center in Texas,” said Dr. Erica Lembke, chair of the special education department and interim dean of the MU College of Education. “We were fortunate to be able to recruit and hire Dr. Dotson even during a pandemic and we look forward to his leadership as we continue to grow our ABA program.”

Dr. Dotson also was drawn to the Thompson Center due to its mission of autism research. He plans on continuing his line of research on best practices for improving social skills and relationship development through ABA for children with autism.

Throughout his career, Dr. Dotson has always been searching for a better way. A better way to help children and families with special needs. At the Thompson Center, he can continue that search while continuing the Center’s tradition of the highest quality of care, training and research.