Autism Connections Breakout Sessions 2023

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Browse each sections descriptions below. 

Utilizing Routines and Schedules to Promote Increased Independence with Daily Activities for Children

Presenter: Julie Hayden, Senior Director at Behavior Assist 1.5 BCBA credits will be available for this session, organized through Julie.

Workshop Description:  Participants will learn the benefits of using routines and schedules to help children complete tasks and activities. Research supports the effectiveness of breaking down skills or tasks into smaller components, teaching each one, and providing reinforcement. Skills may be taught or shaped to help ensure increased independence as the task becomes part of the child’s repertoire.

Participant Profile: BCBAs, and applicable for all audiences.  

Julie Hayden has been the Senior Director at Behavior Assist for nearly 3 years. She works to ensure individuals with Autism receive ethical, quality ABA services from dedicated professionals in their neighborhood. Julie has been active in the field of Behavior Analysis for over a decade serving clients aged 18 months to adult. In her current role and practice she specializes in working primarily with young children requiring intensive supports. Working in rural, underserved communities has become a professional commitment. Learning the needs, resources and populations of these areas has allowed her to provide services in these regions of highest need. Julie is a BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) and LABA (Licensed Applied Behavior Analyst -Massachusetts). Julie holds a BS in Biology from Incarnate Word College in San Antonio, TX, and a Master of Science in Education from BayPath University. Additional Master’s level work in Organizational Behavior Management (OBM).

Diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorder: Inside the Process of an Early Diagnostic Clinician

Presenter: Gillian Erhabor, Licensed Clinical Psychologist at the Lurie Center for Autism

Description:  This workshop will review in detail the DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder and the MGH Lurie Center for Autism’s approach to early and rapid diagnosis in children under 5 years old.

Participant Profile: Educators, parents, and medical professionals (who do not already specialize in autism as this information may be redundant)


Dr. Erhabor, Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, is a clinical neuropsychologist who has dedicated her career to the evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Dr. Erhabor specializes in the diagnostic and neuropsychological assessment of children within the early developmental period and works closely with their families to create comprehensive and individualized recommendations for each child. In addition to clinical care, Dr. Erhabor provides direct training and supervision to the Lurie Center’s postdoctoral fellows and contributes her time assessment skills to various NIH and privately funded research projects within the clinic.

Dr. Erhabor received her undergraduate degree from Northeastern University and her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She completed her pre-doctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric neuropsychology at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP).

Transition: Special Education to Adult Services

Description: Transition is a word that has a unique meaning to families with a loved one aging out of the entitlement of education and into the world as productive, contributing adults. This anticipated change brings about many anxious feelings. When does the transition process start? Who is involved? Are there any options? Who can help? Family members were also competent with the educational terminology, now they must learn a new language such as 688, ISP and Self-Direction?

Participant Profile: Individuals with Autism, parents, professionals, and educators.

Presenters: Leilani Paniagua and Jessica Clinton, MA Transition Service Coordinators at DDS

Leilani has more than 18 years of experience supporting individuals and families in Massachusetts. In her current role of more than seven years with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services in Springfield as the MA Transition Service Coordinator, Leilani concentrates on the following: assisting young adults with developmental disabilities transition from Special Education into adult services; working collaboratively with school departments in the Hilltowns, Southwick, Westfield, Longmeadow, E. Longmeadow, Hampden, Wilbraham, and Springfield; collaborating with community agencies and vendors to provide appropriate services to the individuals we serve; creating the Individual Transition Plan with individuals leaving special education and entering adult services. Leilani has also worked with Wayfinders, MA Department of Transitional Assistance in Boston, MA Department of Children and Families, and Casa Myrna Vazquez, Inc. in Boston.

Too Scared to Talk About It: An Open, Empowered, and Real Conversation About Sexuality

Presenter: Brian Melanson, Lead Sexuality Educator for the Whole Selves Program

Description:  In this workshop, Lead Sexuality Educator for the Whole Selves program Brian Melanson will facilitate a focused, honest, and open discussion on sexuality. The importance and practice of providing sexuality education for learners with intellectual and developmental disabilities will take center stage, and Brian will draw on more than a decade of experience providing direct instruction and designing curriculum related to this essential topic. Participants are also encouraged to bring their own unique questions, curiosities, and challenges to the session. Whether you are supporting someone else’s development or have questions about your own, each person’s experience will enrich our discussion. The intention of this workshop is to provide a supportive space for individuals to learn from one another as we journey together towards a better future for ourselves and those we support.

Participant Profile: Educators, Parents, Professionals, and Individuals with Autism are welcome to attend.

Brian Melanson has been working with students with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities as a sexuality educator for more than 10 years. He has co-written the Whole Selves curriculum and has facilitated programs for students of all ages on a variety of sexuality topics, including boundaries, relationships, consent, puberty, sexual health, and masculinity. Brian holds an M.Ed in sexuality education and an MSW from Widener University.