Pitzer Spotlights

2005-2006 Spotlight Archives

Lisa Lieberman ’71: A Legacy of Care

Lisa Lieberman '71

“I came out of Pitzer, ready to make a difference in the world, desirous of leaving a legacy of something better than before. And I guess that hasn't changed to this day,” Lisa Lieberman ’71 says.

Indeed, Lieberman’s life and career have been marked by the legacy of care she has provided for family members and others dealing with disabilities of many types. In fact, she recently had her first book, A Stranger Among Us: Hiring In-Home Support for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Neurological Differences, published by Autism Asperger Publishing Company. The book is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of hiring support people to care for children with disabilities.

Lieberman was a psychology major at Pitzer and said she has fond memories of her adviser, Ruth Munroe, and Lew Ellenhorn, who became a close mentor.

Now a clinical social worker in private practice specializing in “living with disability in the family,” Lieberman travels regionally and nationally as a speaker from her home in Lake Oswego, Ore.

“There are many aspects to my work,” Lieberman said. “In my private counseling practice, I specialize in living with disability in the family. This specialty arose from personal experience with disability in my own family: a brother with paranoid schizophrenia, a husband with an advanced case of multiple sclerosis, and a son with autism. I also now case-manage my mother's care in a nursing home. It is challenging to be simultaneously ‘talking my walk’ as I work with people who deal with chronic challenges in day to day life.”

“At the same time, I feel so blessed to be in the presence of these silent heroes who face difficulties with such courage,” she continued. “I love to be able to pass on information gleaned from my own experience. But more importantly, I am touched and transformed by the intimate sharing of their struggles. The work is truly sacred.”

Lieberman has broken new ground for changes in care and treatment for people facing an array of challenges.

“As a national speaker and author, I am constantly exploring topics about which there has been little to no research. My son was diagnosed with autism long before the explosive increase in incidence of autism that has occurred in the last 5 or 6 years. He and I have been trailblazers, paving the way for many younger kids in our community who follow in his footsteps. Dealing with ignorance, though often unintentional, has been extremely painful and frustrating, to say the least. We are inventing the wheel and though exhausting, it is also gratifying to know that through our efforts, others will perhaps move more easily on their own paths.”

Her expertise and experiences working with her son provide an important resource for parents and caregivers of people with autism spectrum disorders.

“We will be presenting together at the Autism Society of America's national conference in Providence, R.I., next month, discussing our efforts toward greater inclusion for him in the high school environment as a student with a complex disability. We will be co-writing a book on this topic in the coming year.”

Lieberman looks back on her days at Pitzer within the larger cultural context of the 1960s: a time of revolution, anti-war sentiment, the Black Power movement, the Bohemian subculture of Haight-Ashbury, etc.

“When I got to Pitzer as a 17-year-old in 1967, I was naively looking for someone to tell me what to do. I craved structure in an environment that demanded that I learn to think for myself. Pitzer encouraged me to stretch myself, to move into less comfortable arenas. I am always proud to tell people that I graduated from such a fine college as Pitzer. I know I am in great company. I hope that in turn, Pitzer can also be proud to list Lisa Lieberman as an alumna who made a difference in her own way.”

- Jay Collier