Table of Contents


Praise for Seven Keys to Unlock Autism

Title page

Copyright page



About the Authors

About The Miracle Project


Introduction: It Starts with You

The Seven Keys

How to Use This Book

The Keys

Elaine’s Story

Part One: Autism 101


A Brief History

Inspirational Stories

Autism’s Alphabet Soup

Part Two: The Seven Keys

Key One: Set an Intention

The Lock: Domino Morning

Key One Exercise: Set an Intention

The Unlock: It’s Never Too Late to Start the Day Over

Meet Special Educator Lisa Johnson

Quick Keys

Key Two: Develop Acceptance and Appreciation

A Typically “Atypical” Day for Joey

The Key to Accepting Others Starts with Accepting and Appreciating Yourself

The Lock: The Up-Down

Key Two Exercise: I Am . . . 

The Unlock: Turning the Down to Up

Lisa Johnson’s Tale of Acceptance and Understanding

Diane’s Story of Acceptance

Quick Keys

Key Three: Understand Sensory Profile

The Lock: Food Fight

Key Three Exercise: The Inside Job

The Unlock: Food Peace

Quick Keys

Key Four: Follow the Leader

The Lock: No Way In

Key Four Exercise: Jump In!

The Unlock: Gossip into Literature

Quick Keys

Key Five: Include the Child

The Lock: Top in the Class

Key Five Exercise: Stranger in a Strange Land

The Unlock: Valuable Contributions

Quick Keys

Key Six: Practice and Preparation Make Progress

The Lock: Bridges Falling Down

Key Six Exercise: Taking Steps and Let’s Role-Play and Pretend!

The Unlock: Building Bridges

Quick Keys

Key Seven: Live Miracle Minded

The Lock: Color Wars

Key Seven Exercise: Minding Miracles, Mining Miracles

The Unlock: A Colorful Rainbow

Quick Keys


The Lock: Shut Down

The Unlock: Wide Open

Part Three: Appendixes

Appendix A: The Resource Room

Primer: Leading Schools of Thought

Autism Organizations



Key One Resources

Key Two Resources

Key Three Resources

Key Four Resources

Key Five Resources

Key Six Resources

Key Seven Resources

Appendix B: Additional Corners of the Resource Room

Environmental Factors

Classroom Set-Up

Proactive Tools


Creating Consistency Across All Environments

Creating a User-Friendly System

Seven Keys to a Smooth IEP

The Greatest Untapped Resource: The Parent


Download CD/DVD content

Praise for Seven Keys to Unlock Autism

“Thank you, Elaine and Diane! Seven Keys to Unlock Autism is extraordinarily rich in wisdom and honest, practical advice. Welcome this book into your home and you will be inspired. Miracles are never easy, but they are closer than you think.”

—Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP, creator of the DVD and book The Happiest Toddler on the Block

“Elaine Hall’s Miracle Project is a ‘miracle’—a miracle of ingenuity, human intimacy, and creativity. This magnificent work vividly demonstrates the joy and hope of discovering the creative and emotional capacities that exist in all children but especially in those children with autism and other special needs.”

—Stanley I. Greenspan, MD, author, Engaging Autism and The Child with Special Needs

“What a remarkable guide for educators and care providers of people with ASD! In Seven Keys to Unlock Autism, Elaine Hall and Diane Isaacs urge us to live the timeless advice shared by Gandhi: ‘You must be the change you want to see in the world.’ In highly readable, engaging, and practical ways, Elaine and Diane challenge professionals and care providers to deeply explore places that few approaches to autism dare to go: how can we change OUR attitudes, beliefs, and actions to profoundly impact the lives of people with ASD in the most positive ways. This book is a rare work that is creative, optimistic, and deeply reflective. It will prove to be transformational for those of us who share their lives with people with ASD.”

—Barry M. Prizant, PhD, CCC-SLP, director, Childhood Communication Services, adjunct professor, Center for the Study of Human Development, Brown University, and coauthor of The SCERTS Model

Seven Keys to Unlock Autism summarizes what we know about kids on the spectrum and how best to help them learn and thrive, in a concise yet warm and empathetic way. This book will prove to be extremely valuable to all members of the teaching community—as well as a child’s lifelong teacher—his or her parent.”

—Kristen Stills, Emmy-winning producer, Autism: The Musical, wife of Stephen Stills, mother, advocate

“This unique approach seamlessly blends the depth of the human spirit with an understanding of the neuroscience of autism. The Seven Keys help teachers and families to embrace children with differences and, ultimately, develop the opportunities, interactions, and expressive inner life we desire for all children. A must-read.”

—CarolAnn Edscorn, MS, parent, advocate, educator

“Diane and Elaine packed Seven Keys to Unlock Autism full of great information for parents and professionals. I love that it comes with a bonus DVD for visual learners like me.”

—Alex Plank, founder of

Seven Keys to Unlock Autism is an excellent resource for any professional working with students with autism. For new teachers it is a step-by-step guide that will help minimize anxiety and provide the framework for success in the classroom. For those of us in the field for a while, it is a refreshing new perspective that excites, motivates, and challenges us to recognize and develop these special individuals’ strengths by increasing awareness of ourselves and the roadblocks we may unknowingly impose. Thankfully, Elaine and Diane help us know when to step out of the way and how to recognize, coach, and support these individuals’ strengths.”

—Debra Gordon, MS, CCC-SLP

“As children are diagnosed on the autism spectrum at ever increasing rates, Seven Keys to Unlock Autism is a must-read for mental health clinicians, educators, and others working with families. Anyone working with families touched by autism would be well equipped with the compassionate and commonsense approaches offered in this book.”

—Ilene Weingarten, MFT

Title page

To our inspiring messengers, Wyatt and Neal, who make miracles out of autism … every day


Aspecial spotlight shines on Marjorie McAneny for championing the seven keys when it was just a contender. Thank you to Irene Webb for her diligent and caring leadership and Tracy Columbus for her boundless energy and dedication to our mission.

Our special thanks to Elizabeth Kaye for her laser focus, Alisa Jones for her witty encouragement, Paula Stacey for her useful suggestions, and Lisa Johnson for her inspiration in and out of the trenches. And thanks to the brilliant experts in autism who have become our family: Stephen Shore, Barry Prizant, Dr. Ricki Robinson, DanaKae Bonahoom, and in loving memory of Dr. Stanley Greenspan.

Thank you to all of Neal’s teachers and our experiences with them, which shaped Neal’s educational program, especially to Miriam Brock, Darlene Hanson, Portia Iverson, Darci Kelleher, Wendy Parise, Mark Sanchegrin, Sarita Santos; and all of Neal’s coaches, past and current. A heartfelt shout-out to the creative teachers we’ve encountered along Wyatt’s wondrous path: Dawn Spagna, Jackie Sidman, Carol Ishihara, and the many artists of education at The Help Group.

To the imaginative Miracle Project kids, who clearly threw away the molds, and our expanding global network of Miracle Project practitioners, volunteers, and family members who lead autism forward with acceptance and joy. Thank you to everyone involved in The Vista Inspire Program at Vista Del Mar for your support of innovative autism programming.

Diane is in loving gratitude of her two sons, Jackson and Wyatt, who teach her by example to live in the now, transcend all limits, and be a dedicated ambassador of truth.

Elaine thanks her son, Neal, for teaching her to listen profoundly and know unconditional love. His courage and tenacity inspires her daily. She thanks her husband, play therapist Jeff Frymer, for “holding down the fort,” cooking amazing meals, and being a wonderful husband and role model for Neal.

To all of us who have hit walls, found impassable obstacles, wanted to give up … but didn’t. For you.

About the Authors


Photo: Cindy Gold

Elaine Hall (“CoachE!”) was a top Hollywood children’s acting coach working for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Nickelodeon, and others, including the film Akeelah and the Bee. Elaine’s life changed dramatically after her son, Neal, adopted from a Russian orphanage, was diagnosed with autism. When traditional therapies did not work for him, she rallied actors and other cre­ative people to join his world, and Neal slowly emerged from his isolation. She then developed the Seven Keys training program and used these methods to create The Miracle Project, a world-renowned theater and film program for children of all abilities, profiled in the Emmy Award−winning HBO documentary Autism: The Musical.

Elaine has appeared on CNN, CBS News, Oprah Radio, and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and the Wall Street Journal. She has received awards from Holly Robinson Peete’s HollyRod Foundation, Autism Speaks, Autism Society of Los Angeles, Senator Fran Pavley, the mayor of Los Angeles, Areva Martin’s Special Needs Network, Etta Israel, and many more. Her innovative approach to working with children with autism has created a “movement,” with people requesting The Miracle Project all over the world. Workshops have been held across the United States and Canada and in India and Africa. The Miracle Project now has ongoing classes in New York City, West Los Angeles, and at The Help Group in Los Angeles.

Elaine is a keynote speaker and workshop leader at conferences throughout the United States and Canada. Her first book, Now I See the Moon: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle, was chosen by the United Nations, where she spoke to launch World Autism Awareness Month 2011. Elaine and producer Diane Isaacs created the CD Fly: Into Autism, which pairs kids with autism and celebrity artists and was honored at Carnegie Hall. In addition to her work with The Miracle Project, Elaine created and directs an arts enrichment program and a bar/bat mitzvah program for children and teens with autism at Vista Del Mar in Los Angeles. She lives in Santa Monica, California, with the two loves of her life, her teenage son, Neal, and her newly wedded play therapist husband, Jeff.


Photo: Cindy Gold

Diane Isaacs is an award-winning producer of film, television, and music. After she received her BFA in film and BA in English from New York Uni­versity, she worked as an associate producer on Miami Vice and founded Green Moon Productions with Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. She produced many films, including HBO’s Emmy-nominated And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, and worked with talented actors such as Academy Award–winners Emma Thompson and Helen Hunt, Patrick Swayze, Betty White, Mischa Barton, and Rod Steiger. She produced The Miracle Project benefit CD Fly with celebrity artists who performed duets with children with autism and directed The Miracle Project Fly Singers’ YouTube hit Sensitive with Jack Black, the grand prize music video winner for Stand Up To Cancer, as well as the DVD series Unlocking the World of Autism.

A conference presenter and workshop leader, Diane has taught The Miracle Project and the Seven Keys nationally and internationally, including in India and Africa. Diane is an all-American, world-class Ironman athlete, achieving fourth place at the world championships in Kona, Hawaii, in 2004. Featured in Sports Illustrated and Muscle & Fitness Hers, she has developed Miracles 360, a mind, body, and spirit approach to fitness and wellness. She is a mother of two inspiring sons: Jackson, who gracefully balances competitive tennis, academics, and global inquiry, and Wyatt, who reminds her daily that “autism is awesomism!”

About The Miracle Project

Elaine Hall founded The Miracle Project in 2004. This transformational program had a simple yet visionary goal: to provide a loving, accepting, nurturing environment that celebrates and honors the unique and often unrecognized abilities of young people with autism and address other special needs by guiding them through creative workshops and artistic programs. In 2006, a documentary film, Autism: The Musical, was made that featured The Miracle Project and its methods. In 2007, Autism: The Musical premiered to rave reviews at the Tribeca Film Festival and was shown on HBO in April 2008, garnering two Emmy awards. Today, The Miracle Project is internationally acclaimed and uplifts thousands of children with autism.

To achieve this result, Elaine developed a specific, seven-pronged training program for her staff that consisted of educa­tors, therapists, theater professionals, and carefully selected volunteers. Most had no previous experience in working with children with autism. The benefits of this training were clear to see. By learning to connect with the children and accept them for who they were, each trainee created relationships that infused the children with joy, confidence, and love. The trainees also bloomed as their newfound relationships increased their senses of empathy and compassion and brought them meaning and fulfillment.

Diane Isaacs, an accomplished television and film producer, experienced the benefits of The Miracle Project firsthand. As she traveled coast to coast and around the world, from Africa to Asia, she saw the pressing need for effective personal tools for those living and working with autism. She became determined to disseminate the inspiring Miracle Project’s protocols using her multimedia experience. She joined forces with Elaine to bring you the Seven Keys to Unlock Autism.

How do Diane and Elaine know that the seven keys work? Because they have trained hundreds of people who started out with little or no knowledge of how to work with children with autism and were, through this program, immediately able to interact with them and understand them. The seasoned professionals trained in these protocols uniformly assert that they learned more about relating to children with autism through the seven keys than they learned in twenty previous years of teaching.

This book is designed to bring the seven keys to educators. Elaine and Diane recruited Lisa Johnson, a special education pioneer, and other special educators to provide hands-on teaching experience. They also enlisted those whose voices are rarely heard: students and teachers who have autism.

One of the great things about the seven keys is those who implement them have discovered that enlivening transformation occurs in the lives of their students and in their own lives.

We work in order to help others but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.

Pema Chödrön, Buddhist philosopher


When the teacher is ready, the student will appear.

These were the first words that came to mind as I talked with Elaine Hall and Diane Isaacs about their book, Seven Keys to Unlock Autism. Borrowing from the ancient wisdom of Buddhist philosophy, which holds that students need to first be open to new ideas, thoughts, and experiences before truly learning, this book is about how teachers can open themselves up in both mind and heart to their students on the autism spectrum.

Beginning with a refreshing look at the autism spectrum, Elaine and Diane reframe kids with autism as simply different, rather than disordered. Certainly there are many aspects of autism that can be disordering, and we are duty-bound to provide support and intervention in these areas. However, the goal of intervention should be to help people with autism achieve as fulfilling and productive lives as possible with their differences—not in spite of, or in an effort toward, elimination of this condition.

Suppose a teacher has just been informed that a child with autism is joining her classroom. Typically, a deficit model would be employed—the bulk of the teacher’s preparation would be accounting for and focusing on the challenges the student. However, if the student were introduced as an individual with significant strengths in visual processing and logic or has an unusual talent for vocal imitation, imagine how the educator’s intentions, expectations, and preparations change. This book provides the tools for teachers to appreciate children as the individuals they are, recognize their strengths, and pave the way for building productive relationships so each and every student can receive the rich education that he and she deserves.

Like a polished diamond, this brilliant book educates readers in seven vital ways to open up to what students on the spectrum have to offer us in terms of personal growth and pedagogy. This guide is chock-full of wisdom and exercises that can be implemented today—activities that are profound in their simplicity and their effectiveness, such as the idea of “rebooting the day” to start afresh as needed, at any time, to bring in positivity. These seven essential keys unlock for readers a greater awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of the gifts waiting to be reaped from relationships with people having the fascinating, sometimes vexing (but rewarding in the end), condition we call autism.

This must-read guide is a powerful resource for parents, therapists, educators at all levels of experience, and others who want to learn more about supporting people with autism: appreciating and understanding who they are while simultaneously unlocking the keys for greater fulfillment on the part of all involved.

The seven keys prepare readers for successful relationships with people on the autism spectrum. Only when the teacher is ready—when an educator is open to accepting and appreciating students with autism as they are—will the student appear, ready to engage in miraculous personal growth, and to make the world a better place for all.

Stephen M. Shore, EdD

Assistant professor of special education, Adelphi University

Internationally known consultant, presenter, and author

Person on the autism spectrum

August 2011