A Tribute to Dr. Daniel Rosenn, a Founding Member of AANE

Dania Jekel, Executive Director
Blog Post

AANE wouldn’t exist without the help of our incredibly hard-working community of volunteers and staff. It’s amazing to think that a few of these individuals who joined me 26 years ago when AANE was nothing more than an idea, are still an active part of the community to this day. Although each person’s contribution has been special and indispensable, Dr. Daniel Rosenn is a long-term supporter who has been instrumental in making AANE the organization it is today.

Dr. Rosenn, who worked tirelessly for AANE throughout his career, recently faced a sudden illness, which necessitated his immediate retirement. These circumstances were unexpected, but I want to take this opportunity to honor and celebrate the incredible work he has done for AANE and for thousands of individuals on the autism spectrum.

In 1995, Gail Kastorf (who is retiring this month) and I were both directing family support programs in different organizations. We decided to hold the first conference for people with “Asperger Syndrome,” which was a new diagnosis in the DSM IV. We asked two parents of children to speak at the conference, and for the professional expert, we turned to Dr. Rosenn who gave a brilliant talk. We felt incredibly lucky that the foremost expert in this new diagnosis happened to live in the Boston area.

Moreover, Dr. Rosenn had the foresight to know there was a large number of unrecognized individuals who needed community, information, support, and resources. After this first successful, sold-out conference, it was Dr. Rosenn who asked the audience to stick around if they wanted to start an organization dedicated to Asperger’s. Everyone in the audience stayed, and that was the start of AANE.

As AANE has grown from a desk with a part-time staff to a large, national non-profit, Dr. Rosenn has been the backbone of the organization. He served on the Board for 24 years, headed committees, and provided advice on strategy, growth, operations, staffing, clinical consultations, and training. He continued to share his knowledge and expertise by speaking at many AANE conferences over the years. At one conference that occurred before the days of cell phones, a keynote speaker hadn’t shown up, and with no preparation, Dr. Rosenn agreed to do it instead. The speaker had been delayed by traffic and came in as Dr. Rosenn was heading up the aisle, so we never found out whether or not he could ad lib a keynote talk. But the fact that he was willing to step in so immediately speaks to his incredible skill and devotion to our organization. Without him, there would be no AANE.

In 2015, AANE recognized Dr. Rosenn’s extensive contributions to the organization by naming its annual fall conference “The Daniel W. Rosenn Connections Conference.” The Rosenns generously started a fund, which pays for the keynote speaker at our annual fall conference. The Daniel Rosenn Fund enables AANE to invite the best cutting-edge speakers. Since its inception, this fund has allowed us to have world-renowned presenters such as Dr. Oliver Sacks, Dr. Tony Attwood, Eustasia Cutler and her daughter Dr. Temple Grandin, Dr. Ami Klin, Lianne Holliday Willey, Sara Hendrickx, Becca Lory Hector, Jason Katims, and Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen among others.

Beyond our organization, he also had an active private practice, serving both long-term clients and conducting evaluations. He has also held prominent positions in many healthcare organizations throughout the Boston area. At the time of his retirement, he was the Medical Director of NFI.

But it is Dr. Rosenn’s clinical expertise that I have most admired over the years. Around 2007, I asked him to join me as the facilitator for a 2-hour workshop for teen siblings. We found ourselves on a Sunday morning, sitting around a table with 10 high school teenagers, 9 of whom looked like they would rather be anywhere else but in this group. With subtle and encouraging questions, Dr. Rosenn magically brought this group together. He drew out the members with skillful teaching and gentle encouragement, and by the end, they were actively participating and openly sharing the sibling experience. Not many people have that special touch that can bring out the best in a group of teens to be able to comfortably and honestly share their unique experiences with each other.

And speaking to parents and adults over years, I have heard over and over again the valuable insight, support, and commitment they had received from Dr. Rosenn. I know he cared deeply about each and every patient he worked with or evaluated. It was evident in his long-term relationships with many clients, no matter the complexity or variation in their profile.

The impact of Dr. Rosenn’s understanding, support, advocacy, and individual attention to AANE and to the greater community cannot be overstated. Few people have the vision to dream so big to ensure that people who are hidden, hurting, and overlooked have the understanding and support they need.