Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Philip W. Drash

Dr. Philip Drash, 79, was among pioneers in treating autism

TAMPA — Her twins were 18 months old when Leslie Ciper knew something was wrong. Bette was learning new words every day; Eric was forgetting words.

After a while, the boy stopped talking altogether.

Through a friend in her church choir, Ciper heard about Dr. Philip Drash. He said the word others had only hinted at: autism.

Dr. Drash, a psychologist who used behavioral techniques to treat children with developmental disabilities, died April 15, of leukemia. He was 79.

"Phil was one of the early behaviorists who recognized the importance of communications skills for young persons with autism, and helping young children develop their ability to communicate," said psychologist Robert Friedman, 66, of the University of South Florida.

Dr. Drash learned behavioral techniques in an unusual setting. As a doctoral student in the late 1950s at Texas Tech University, he worked with a team of behavioral psychologists and graduate students helping NASA train chimpanzees go into space.

The efforts paid off during a 16-minute flight Jan. 31, 1961, when a chimp named Ham pressed a lever whenever a blue light came on inside the capsule. America's first astronaut, Alan Shepard, launched into space May 5, 1961.

Dr. Drash went on to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, then the University of South Florida. In 1974, he became the school's first chairman of the department of child and family services. He also directed the Florida Mental Health Institute at USF, where he worked with children with autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy.

In 1991, he left USF to found the Autism Early Intervention and Prevention Center on Busch Boulevard. He often spoke and wrote about the need for early diagnosis and treatment for autism, a neurological condition often mistaken for hearing loss or psychiatric illness.

Eric Ciper underwent hearing tests and six months of speech therapy before his mother heard about Dr. Drash from a friend who had two autistic children.

"It was like the word on the street," she said. "If you wanted your kid to talk, he's the man you want to see."

With flash cards and pictures, the psychologist taught Eric to vocalize, rewarding him with food and toys.

Now 8 and in the third grade at Clark Elementary School, Eric speaks today, though he struggles to choose the right words.

"He would have no speech at all if it weren't for Phil," his mother said.

She will sing a solo at his funeral service Friday: Amazing Grace.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

.Biography

Philip W. Drash

Born: Sept. 5, 1929.

Died: April 15, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Ruby; sons, Wayne and Chris; daughters, Debbie Drash-Dionisi and Rebecca High; step-son, Michael Barthle; stepdaughter, Janet Scaglione; sister, Marilynn Thomas; and brothers, Allan and Sam; and numerous nieces, nephews, grandchildren and stepgrandchildren.

Service: visitation 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Blount & Curry Funeral Home, 3207 W Bearss Ave.; service 10:30 a.m. Friday, Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church, 2902 W Fletcher Ave., Tampa.

Dr. Philip Drash, 79, was among pioneers in treating autism 04/21/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009 9:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

    Blogs

    Winner of the week 1: 'Liquor wall’ proponents. Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a bill to allow Walmart, Target and other big box stores to sell liquor was a victory for an array of groups, from smaller merchants and Publix (which has stand-alone booze shops near its stores) to those who feel the hard stuff …

  2. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

    Blogs

    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  3. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  4. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  5. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.