HELPLINE: (443) 330-5341

Our History


Pathfinders, Inc. (d/b/a Pathfinders for Autism) was established as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in February 2000 by parents of children with autism, including Baltimore Orioles Hall of Famer William “B.J.” Surhoff and his wife Polly Winde Surhoff.


PFA hosts the 1st Annual Golf Tournament and Awards Dinner to support the development of the Resource Center website and searchable database of providers.


PFA launches the Pathfinders for Autism Resource Center, offering knowledgeable staff and a searchable online database to help families in Maryland find critical service providers quickly and efficiently.


PFA is awarded the Public Awareness Award from the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities for a campaign featuring BJ Surhoff, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Michael Phelps.  PFA hires an Executive Director and an Administrative Assistant to further the organization’s mission.


PFA was instrumental in the passage of first in the nation legislation aimed at improving early detection and autism screening practices in Maryland.  PFA receives the Governor of Maryland’s Citation to recognize our Resource Center.


PFA launches our hugely popular family recreational events, partnering with local attractions such as The National Aquarium in Baltimore, The Maryland Science Center, The Aberdeen IronBirds, Surfers Healing Ocean City, and Pump It Up Frederick.


PFA launches our Training & Education program focused on offering parents and professionals the opportunity to learn from experts in fields such as vocational rehab, behavior specialists, legal and financial professionals, and more.


Thanks to the generosity of Merritt Properties, PFA moves into new office space allowing for the expansion of the Resource Center to include a walk-in center, library, and training room.  PFA hosts the 1st Biennial Celebrity Fashion Show featuring Brian Roberts, Jessica Long, Michael Phelps, and more.  PFA launches their very popular monthly e-newsletter Parent Tips.


PFA is recognized by the Division of Rehabilitative Services (DORS) Office of Program and Community for promoting best practices in assisting individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders to achieve employment and independence.  PFA begins their Brown Bag workshop series, featuring expert speakers on a variety of relevant topics.


PFA Celebrates their 10 Year Anniversary and expands staff to include a Director of Communications. PFA hosts the 2nd Biennial Celebrity Fashion Show featuring Qadry Ismail, Chris Hoiles, Curt Shilling, and more.  PFA partners with the Michael Phelps Swim School to include Autism 101 training for swim instructors and scholarships for students.


PFA releases our Autism by Age Navigation Guide after a multi-agency/organization work group provided information and content review. The guide lives on the PFA website and is utilized daily by PFA staff and professionals from organizations such as The Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore County Public Schools, Parents’ Place of Maryland, and more.


PFA begins working with the Maryland State Police to offer their academy candidates a class on Understanding Autism. The class quickly gained traction and PFA is called upon by various law enforcement departments across the state to offer the training.


PFA becomes a job training site for interns with autism from Forbush High School.  PFA staff expands to include Director of Programs and Fund Development Associate positions.


After a nearly five-year effort, PFA helps to pass regulation requiring health plans sold in Maryland to cover autism treatment, making MD the 38th State to pass such a law.  Maryland passes a police training mandate requiring all academies and active duty law enforcement to be trained on Interactions with Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities. PFA becomes the primary provider of this required training across Maryland. The success of PFA law enforcement training laid the way for expansion to Fire and EMS. • PFA staffs expands to include a Data Management Specialist and hires their former Forbush interns for the job.


PFA kicks off our 15th Anniversary year with a Leadership Conference showcasing six individuals’ unique journeys and insights that helped them to realize their individual successes. Speakers included Buck Showalter, Manager, Baltimore Orioles; Duncan Niederauer, Former Chief Executive Officer, New York Stock Exchange; Jessica Long, Paralympic Gold Medalist; Justin Constantine, Wounded Warrior & Inspirational Speaker; Adam Silver, Commissioner, NBA; and Irasema Salcido, Founder & CEO, Cesar Chavez Charter Schools.  PFA launches Community Safety events and the Be Safe program. Community Safety events offer the opportunity for local first responders to interact with individuals with autism and their families in an effort to build understanding. The Be Safe program trains individuals with autism how to safely interact with first responders using the Be Safe curriculum developed by self-advocates and a special educator. PFA hosts Friendly First Visits in an effort to address the disparity in oral health care for individuals with autism. Friendly First Visits provided opportunity for individuals with autism to explore a dentist office without the anxiety of receiving any direct medical services. Instead, they have the opportunity to interact with dental care providers and see them wearing protective gear such as aprons, gloves and face masks; become familiar with the sensory environment of a dental office such as lights, sounds, and smells; see and touch the equipment that is used during a visit such as dental instruments, water bowls, and lead vests.


Following the success of 2015, PFA hosts a second Leadership Conference with World Champion US Women’s Soccer star Mia Hamm, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, Orioles’ Manager Buck Showalter, BSO Conductor Marin Alsop, Retired 1st Sgt. Black Hawk Down Matt Eversmann, and Ollie’s Bargain Outlet CEO Mark Butler.  PFA launches Your Next Patient Has Autism, Are Your Prepared? training to local hospitals, medical and nursing school students, and dentists along with medical office support staff. PFA worked with a curriculum development team consisting of an ER doctor, a nurse, and child life specialists.


PFA hosts a screening of the award-winning documentary film SWIM TEAM, which chronicles the rise of the Jersey Hammerheads, capturing a moving quest for inclusion, independence and a life that feels winning. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the McQuay family who are the film’s inspiration. PFA hosts An evening of Orioles magic and autism awareness with Rob Long of 105.7 the Fan, Cal Ripken, Mike Bordick, and PFA President, BJ Surhoff. PFA staff is recognized by the Baltimore County Commission on Disabilities for our April Autism Awareness Campaign “Myth Busting Autism”. The campaign shared common autism myths (ex. “People with autism aren’t intelligent”) and then busted them (i.e. “Always presume intellect. Just because someone can’t communicate verbally, doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate in other ways, or don’t have something to say.”). The campaigned featured submission from individuals with autism, family members, and professionals using photos and video to break down stereotypes.


PFA receives the Governor of Maryland’s Citation for our first responder training program.  PFA hosts the inaugural HeART for Autism fundraiser featuring one-of-a-kind artwork by Mary Beth Marsden and Make Studio. Proceeds from the event supported PFA’s First Responders Initiative.  PFA launches Swim Parties for the entire family to enjoy in an effort to promote water safety in a relaxing judgement-free zone. Water safety resources were shared and swim buddies were available to encourage water safety skills.  With a focus of long-term sustainability for our growing number of programs, PFA hires a Fund Development Director.


Members of PFA training teams are recognized for their service. Josh Smith received the Stanley S. Sidle/William Ohge, Jr. Memorial Citizenship Award for his work as a co-trainer in PFA’s law enforcement training. The award honors an individual with intellectual/developmental disabilities for outstanding participation in or contribution to the community, including community leadership, contribution to his/her community and/or elf-advocacy. Eric Kane, Glenn Myers and Tom Whalen received the LaVonnya Gardner Award for Autism Acceptance & Advocacy from the Autism Society of Baltimore-Chesapeake for their work training first responders and medical professionals. This award honors the legacy of LaVonnya Gardner, an autistic woman who dedicated her life to educating the public about the joys and challenges of being autistic; wanting and working wholeheartedly to change the perception of disability.  Nearly two thousand fans enjoyed an energetic performance by the Grammy-Award Winning stand-up, actor, and author, Lewis Black to benefit Pathfinders for Autism and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – Maryland Chapter. Special thank you to Media Star Promotions for helping us raise over $85,000 for this one of a kind event.  After nearly 11 years on International Circle, thanks to Merritt Properties, PFA finds a new and larger home on Schilling Circle.


2020 started off as a celebration of PFA’s 20th Anniversary and recognizing 20 individuals and businesses/groups that have made a significant impact on our growth and development over the last 20 years. From developing programs to raising the funds needed to deliver them, the 20 for 20 honorees shaped PFA for today and the years to come. Just as our year of celebration was underway, COVID-19 shook the globe. Despite closures and cutbacks, PFA continued to serve Maryland’s autism community. Using the creativity and boldness that carried us through our first 20 years, we saw the need, found solutions, and got the work done. Not only did all our programs continue, but for many we were able to expand our scope and reach.

PFA was one of 12 organizations across the country to be awarded the Dept. of Justice grant made available in response to Kevin and Avonte’s Law that passed in 2018 to promote initiatives that reduce the risk of injury or death related to wandering. PFA used the grant award to increase public awareness of missing persons with developmental disabilities, provide prevention and response information and training to caregivers and first responders.


PFA was happy to be able to get back out into the community in 2021 after delivering all our programming and fundraising events virtually for over a year. The virtual necessity that COVID dictated opened our eyes to the many people in our community who needed more accessible options. By now offering our programs both virtually and in-person we are providing more choice and expanding our reach in the community.  An exciting part of 2021 was our Dip Challenge Bus Tour, which involved us taking a 48ft bus to all five regions of the state, bringing resources and awareness and asking people to Dip into their Hearts to support our work.  It was great spending the summer seeing so many old friends and making many new ones.


PFA hosted our Mock Traffic Stops in every region of the state. This program gives drivers and passengers with autism the opportunity to practice pulling over, following directions, and interacting with law enforcement in a controlled setting with less anxiety, all to make an actual stop less stressful. PFA’s law enforcement training remains in high demand among departments across Maryland. In addition, we added the FBI, the US Navy, and West Virginia State Police to our list of trainees. PFA hosted a statewide Scavenger Hunt that deployed over 600 ambassadors in communities across the state. Teams completed missions to earn points towards prizes, while spreading awareness about the organization. The result was a weekend full of laughs, fun, and funds raised to support our mission.

In our 20+ year history, PFA has grown into the State’s largest autism organization dedicated to helping individuals with autism and their families. PFA has been awarded the Guide Star Gold rating. We look forward to expanding the reach of our programs and working with partners to improve the lives of individuals with autism, their family members and those who care for them.

To learn more about Pathfinders for Autism’ resource center, training, awareness campaigns, safety initiatives and free family recreational activities please visit our Mission & Programs section and our News & Events section.

The Pathfinders for Autism Year End Accomplishments and 990 Forms are available via download, in PDF format, in our Year End Accomplishments and Financials section.


contact us today to get involved