I’m ready to talk about


This is my story and what I believe I can do to help.

Why do I care about Autism?

When I became a father for the first time, naturally my life changed forever. My wife Marissa gave birth to our beautiful baby boy, Mateo. Becoming a father has been the most meaningful experience I could have ever asked for.

Early on, Marissa felt that Mateo was delayed in his progress. This was something I couldn’t see or understand. I was initially stubborn and not willing to accept any critique from anyone, let alone a label I knew nothing about. Marissa still pushed forward and scheduled evaluations to see if we could get a head start on some of the things she was noticing. She did most of this herself because I didn’t make myself emotionally available. I knew deep down that she knew better than me and hoped that if she handled it, like she does with most things, Mateo would be OK.

Mateo eventually entered into an early intervention program and began getting services for some of the developmental delays. I wasn’t against the services either because I loved that he was getting this extra help and saw an opportunity to really connect and learn. I learned that an autism diagnosis is something that isn’t given until a child reaches a certain age. As involved as I was, I can still look back and feel like I fell short. I will never forget this one time, we had one of his therapists over on a Saturday morning and we were sitting down doing a puzzle. It was one of those puzzles that had police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances on it. Mateo actually said “ambulance”. I can remember this like it was yesterday. I cried with such joy that day.

Mateo turned 5 years old on January 25th 2023 and is still nonverbal. I believe that those words are coming and am so proud of him for the progress he’s made to this point. We have him in an early intervention program in Piermont, NY where he gets services throughout the week, as well as private speech and occupational therapy. I couldn’t be more grateful for the people in our lives that we continue to meet that do this kind of work.

What do I want to do with Autism?

I want to help organizations and professionals that serve children with Autism communicate more effectively so they can connect with parents that truly need them, and future generations of individuals who are called to pursue this line of work.

As a parent of a child with special needs, I am called to shine a light on the people in this world and use my unique set of skills to drive the industry forward. I believe that we need to educate each other and connect in new ways that actually services not just the greater community of children, parents & professionals, but the smaller communities found all around the country. I want to be able to help others find comfort in knowing what to expect and who they can go see.

Who am I?

As the founder of Fill in the Brand, a marketing and production company, I have had the pleasure of working with many privately held businesses and organizations facing significant challenges through the years. New technology has disrupted most industries, and the need for trust and guidance has never been more necessary to move forward with confidence.

At Fill in the Brand, we specialize in building effective communication strategies for our clients. Our holistic approach allows us to truly understand our clients’ needs and develop customized solutions that preserve as much of what they have built as possible, while still allowing for growth. We respect our clients’ concerns and work with them to ease into this transition in a comfortable way. We become a partner that guides them through the process and helps them understand the connection between communication and the bottom line. Our clients have come to value our expertise and our ability to think in the way we do, and we are proud to have played a role in their success.

What I have been doing about it?

Throughout my entire professional career, I have pressed record on conversations thousands of times with hundreds of people. The one thing I have always been able to do is steer a conversation to bring out the authentic self. In recent years, I have placed more focus on my interviews with people in the special needs space.

Over the last few years, I have had the chance to work with a private institution for middle and high school students with special needs. Throughout this time I have gotten a chance to see what life could look like as my children grow up. This experience has accelerated my underlying purpose to do the thing I’ve done successfully for companies for nearly 20 years. A large part of that work involves filming interviews with the people that do this work every day and creating content that people can watch to find the connections they seek.

What communication challenges do I see?

The people and organizations that do this kind of work really need help. They aren’t doing all they can to really communicate the impact they are having on the families they see every day. They also don’t truly understand how to market what they do properly. The ones that do are not necessarily doing it genuinely. There needs to be a more cohesive approach that serves a longer term outcome. Organizations need to get on board with this and start rethinking how they invest in this for the future, especially if they want to keep and attract the talent that helps them thrive.

What opportunities are there that can drive growth in this space?

It all comes down to effective communication strategies and simple systems. More of a focus needs to be placed on education and unfortunately there aren’t too many people inside of these organizations with a dedicated role on building and maintaining such systems. That’s not even to mention the potential limited capabilities of some of these people, but they can be taught. Organizations need to better understand how this will help them and better understand how this work actually impacts the bottom line. Once that connection is made, the creative stuff does the work in the immediate future and creates an understanding of the process each organization will have to go through.

How will my work make a difference?

We are going to create more connections to the right people that are going to lead to stronger relationships and more educated parents. By helping people understand the process at a higher level, we can create more breathing room in the creation process, resulting in more aligned organizations.

This is the approach that I believe will make the biggest difference in our world and help families like mine feel good about the investments we make for our children.

Laurie Sugarman Derrico is my son Mateo’s Occupational Therapist. She works at HTA of New York in New City, which is where we take Mateo twice a week after school.

Laurie began working with Mateo in early 2020, which was when I first began to really understand what Occupational Therapy was. At that time, the sensory gym was closed and we were forced to do his OT sessions over Zoom. As unfortunate as it was, it did provide a really great opportunity for us to get hands-on learning into this world my wife Marissa and I knew very little about. Occupational Therapy over Zoom certainly came with its own unique set of challenges, but we are all better because of it, especially Mateo.

In the years since, our relationship has grown stronger, and Mateo has developed a truly deep connection with her. Because of the profound impact Laurie has had on our lives, I knew I would need to press record on a conversation with her.

This is that conversation, and I hope you enjoy it.

I met Yandie when I began working with WealthEdge back in 2017. I have always appreciated her approach to financial planning. As we were wrapping up a recent production shoot at the office, I asked Yandie if I could continue recording and dive into something a bit more personal. I knew this conversation could be of value to someone that finds themselves at a similar point in their journey.

Yandie Liautaud, is the Financial Planning Director at WealthEdge®. Yandie heads the Financial Planning team, providing comprehensive wealth management options to clients. She supports clients through every stage of their financial journey, utilizing a family office approach and working closely with clients’ professional advisors to create personalized financial plans. Yandie is known for her exceptional listening skills and unwavering support during life’s pivotal moments. With an MBA from Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business and a Certified Financial Planner® designation, Yandie’s expertise is unmatched. When she’s not helping clients reach their financial goals, she enjoys exploring her passion for sustainable and impact investing, as well as music and dance. Yandie is fluent in both French and Spanish.

The Champion Autism Network (CAN) is a non-profit organization based in Surfside Beach, South Carolina, that aims to create supportive and judgment-free experiences for people living with autism. Founded in 2012 by Becky Large, a business professional and mother of a child with autism, CAN works to educate and empower communities, businesses, and organizations to enhance the quality of life for people with autism. The organization values love, empowerment, acceptance, and playfulness as key principles in its mission.

CAN recognizes that life with autism can be unpredictable and that people with autism may have sensory processing issues that make certain stimuli difficult to tolerate. As a result, they may have tantrums or meltdowns in public, which can lead to criticism and judgment from others. In an effort to create more inclusive communities, CAN works to build a network of autism champions that includes businesses, local non-profits, and individuals with autism. In 2016, Surfside Beach declared itself the first autism-friendly travel destination, and the City of Myrtle Beach and Horry County followed suit in 2018. Through its efforts, CAN aims to create a world where all people can happily live, work, and play.

Michael Large is a highly qualified and experienced attorney who has dedicated much of his career to helping the aging population and individuals with disabilities. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1987 from Richard Stockton College and his Juris Doctor degree from Temple University School of Law in 1991. Michael is admitted to practice law in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and has a broad range of expertise in areas such as elder law, estate planning, supported decision making, guardianship and conservatorship matters, Medicaid planning, probate administration and litigation, and public benefits appeals.

Prior to joining the Law Office of Deirdre W. Edmonds, Michael worked as the head of the Elder Law unit at South Carolina Legal Services, where he worked with local community groups, state agencies, and national organizations to develop programs and outreach that helped educate the public and protect the rights of vulnerable adults. He is actively involved in the South Carolina Bar, serving on the Vulnerable Adult Task Force and Elder Law Committee, and is a member of the Horry County Bar, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and the Board of Directors for Champion Autism Network. In addition to his professional commitments, Michael is also a Leadership Grand Strand alumni and a frequent volunteer and speaker on issues affecting the elderly and vulnerable adults. In his personal life, Michael is happily married to his wife Becky and they have two sons.

Lead With Love Training Co. is a company that provides autism training for organizations and corporations. The company recognizes that with the increasing rates of autism diagnosis, it is not a matter of if an autism episode will occur, but when. As a result, it is important for businesses to be prepared and trained to handle such situations in a positive and supportive way. Lead With Love Training Co. believes that by providing autism training, businesses can not only better serve their customers with autism and their families, but also protect their reputation and avoid negative press. The company aims to support families with autism and increase economic opportunity for businesses that support them, and believes that by providing a positive and welcoming experience for customers with autism, businesses can foster loyalty and repeat business. Overall, Lead With Love Training Co. believes that the key to success is to lead with love and compassion towards customers with autism and their families.