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Robert J. Bernstein

Autism, Family Life, & the Birth of a Cognitive Method

Robert J. Bernstein has a personal link to autism, having grown up with an autistic brother and being the parent of an autistic son.

His family experience as a child led him to seek out training in developmental psychology and education, the knowledge base that is underlying in the cognitive method he developed and used throughout his career working with autistic children. His work with a previously non-speaking child whom he helped learn to speak was documented in the New York Times. 

Excerpt from the New York Times: "I had a patient who was named Jackie, he was seven years old who had never spoken. He loved to swing, and I went out to him with him to the playground. Jackie got on the swing and I started to  push him. It was clear Jimmy wanted to be pushed again, and he made a noise, not a word. I pushed him and I said “push”. This happened time and time again. After about 30 or 40 pushes, the child said “puh”, asking to be pushed. 


The child had made the connection between wanting something and language, making a sound that indicated his desire. This continued, and by the end of our playground trip, the child had said three words. I joined with the child and his flow, and was able to introduce a small developmental change that had maximum impact because of the context and relationship. I wasn’t telling him to say a word, and then giving him a reward, which would be externally teaching him to imitate. He has made the connection internally between language, and what he wanted. 


If we don’t let go of our original agenda, we judge the child critically in our minds if “nothing happens.” “Nothing” might happen for what seems like a long time—the point is patience and giving the child time to assimilate new information. Blaming the child for not being on our timeline is wrong. Sometimes change seems to come at a glacial speed.

Autistic children can be exquisitely sensitive to the emotions of others who are with them. If one is impatient, disappointed, or frustrated, they know it. They may feel ashamed that they’re letting us down, or might get frustrated and angry themselves. Either way, what we want to be a positive experience turns negative.


The power is possible in the parent-child interaction, instead of relying solely on professionals to create change. This works with children of any neurotype. Parents have 24/7 access to their child in natural environments that are comfortable—the child’s own bedroom, backyard, or playground can be a “therapeutic” space. There’s a lot to be said for “parent power.” All children want to feel their parents’ love, interest, and approval. When parents accept and join their autistic children and use step-by-step natural development that’s child-centered, the long-term impact can be profound."

Expanding The Bernstein Cognitive Approach

Over the span of his 35 years in practice, Robert has expanded to using his cognitive approach with autistic individuals of all ages. Robert's work has grown to holding positions of leadership, speaking, and consulting as well as writing. He is on the Board of Directors of Westchester ARC and the US Autism Association (USAA). He hosts a monthly webinar with the US Autism Association and has conducted webinars hosted by the Autism Research Institute. His podcast "Uniquely Normal" is available on Apple, Google, and Spotify Podcasts.



Robert has appeared on Dateline NBC and hosted "Educating Your Child," a call-in radio show. Robert has also conducted dozens of seminars and presentations on autism for educators, parents, and the general public, including the USAA, the India Autism Center, the International Autism Conference hosted by CADRRE, the India Inclusion Summit, PESI, and the New Jersey Autism Center of Excellence.


Robert is an international consultant working with autistic children in schools, including school districts and SEPTA groups across the USA, UK, and India.

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