Autism Connections Breakout Sessions 2023

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Complete your registration by buying your conference ticket(s) below.

Browse each breakout description below. 

Please note that all In-Person registrants will receive an email to choose Breakout Sessions approximately one week 

before the event.

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. Attendance will be taken through QR code scanning, and certificates sent by email.

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

Presenters: Leilani Paniagua, MA Transition Service Coordinator at DDS

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.

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.

Autism in College

Presenters: Cat McEachern, Access Coordinator for Disability Services at UMass Amherst and Elizabeth Kilgallon, Autism Specialist at Autism Connections

Description:  Elizabeth and Cat are two autistic adults who have successfully navigated college and now work in the field of human services. From transitioning from high school to living in a dorm, they present both their personal and professional experience of autism in college. Topics include transition, independence, residential life, self-advocacy, relationships, accommodations, and the neurodiversity movement.

Participant Profile:  Individuals with autism who are interested in attending college, and their families, can benefit the most from the content of this presentation. However, the topics covered are also relevant to professionals and educators.

Catherine (Cat) McEachern is an openly autistic adult who holds a B.S. in Psychology from UMass Amherst and is currently a candidate for an M.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience. Cat is also a trained Special Education Advocate and a former Peer Mentor in UMass Residential Life where she coached hundreds of undergraduate students in navigating college-level academics and executive functioning skills. Cat’s current graduate assistantship is at the UMass Amherst Disability Services where she is an Access Coordinator who helps college students access accommodations and learn to advocate for themselves. In her spare time, Cat loves to cuddle with her dog Guppy, play video games with her husband, and bake desserts for friends.

Elizabeth Kilgallon works at Pathlight as an Autism Specialist in the IFFS program (Intensive Flexible Family Support Program). She graduated from UMass Amherst with a Bachelor’s in Psychology specializing in Developmental Disabilities and Human Services. She then worked at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence studying how Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs are, or are not, accessible to children with disabilities and working to make them accessible. As part of a research team at CUNY, she worked on a National Science Foundation-funded participatory-action research project to design, implement, and study a game-design and employment skills workshop for autistic adolescents. She applied Universal Design and SEL experience to the workshop curriculum and developed a neurodiversity-affirming staff training program. Being autistic herself largely shapes her work with autistic kids and adults, and she hopes to help her clients develop the skills and self-confidence to succeed and be happy in their lives.

Shift Your Thinking and Change the Statistics for Job Seekers with Autism


Pamela Ferguson: DDS, Central/West Regional Autism Program Coordinator

Tina Macy: DDS, Disability Employment Supervisor

Christine Ventulett-Buckley: Regional Employment Collaboratives – Project Coordinator, Employer Liaison and Training Program Manager

Erin Weinman: MicroTek, Inc., Executive Vice President

Ruth Poirier: Nebaworks, Division Supervisor and Project SEARCH Program Coordinator

Amy Quenneville: Project SEARCH participant and employee of Springfield College

Ivie Cordero: Talent Acquisition Coordinator at MassHire HOLYOKE Career Center

Krista E. Digregorio, M.S.: NextGen Careers Supervisor- West Region at Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC)

Description:  Gain new strategies as the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) Regional Autism Program Coordinator facilitates an interactive panel with DDS Regional Employment Services, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), MassHire Holyoke, Regional Employment Collaborative, a local employer and an individual with autism with an employment success story. The discussion will include ideas, insights, feedback, and resources on the job search process for individuals with autism ID/and non-ID.

Participant Profile:  Job seekers, job developers and coaches, support staff, family members, and other stakeholders who are interested in this topic.

Pamela Ferguson works for the MA Department of Developmental Services (DDS) as the Central/West Regional Autism Program Coordinator. Pamela has been with DDS for the past five years. Previously, she worked with the MA Department of Mental Health. Pamela is a Social Worker and has worked in the field of developmental disabilities for many years; she is passionate about people with disabilities living their best life. Pamela said her greatest accomplishment is being a parent of a son that has unique abilities, and he is currently living a successful life.

Tina Macy is DDS Supervisor for Regional Employment Services (RES) which provides employment supports to individuals with ASD (with and without IDD). Tina has worked in a variety of employment programs throughout MA and NH for over twenty years. She will share current trends and resources RES is utilizing for successful career exploration, placement and on the job supports.

Christine Ventulett-Buckley is a vocational rehabilitation counselor and occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience in the field of vocational rehabilitation, workforce development and employment supports for people with disabilities. She worked as an employment/education coordinator in supported employment, and vocational rehabilitation counselor for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. She is currently a project coordinator, employer liaison and training program manager for the Regional Employment Collaboratives.

Erin Weinman joined MicroTek Inc., a not-for-profit manufacturer focused on inclusive employment, in 2013 and is currently Executive Vice President. Erin is responsible for all aspects of the employee experience and mission incorporation. As EVP, Erin works to promote employment inclusion for people with developmental disabilities in all aspects of MicroTek’s operations while ensuring a positive and compliant work environment for all employees.

Ruth Poirier, Division Supervisor and Project SEARCH Program Coordinator, has been employed at Nebaworks (Neba) for nearly 12 years and has worked in just about every branch of Neba services. Ruth’s role at Neba is to oversee and supervise both Project SEARCH sites, which are hosted at Springfield College and Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. Ruth works with the college campus and hospital communities in developing purposeful internship opportunities.

Amy Quenneville is 24 years old and is a lifelong resident of western Massachusetts. Amy was introduced to Project SEARCH in 2020 by her Service Coordinator. In early 2021, Amy met with the Project SEARCH Program Coordinator, Ruth Poirier. Amy is currently employed full time as an Administrative Assistant in undergrad Admissions at Springfield College. Amy has been employed successfully for 9 months and loves her job.

Ivie Cordero is a Talent Acquisition Coordinator at MassHire Holyoke Career Center, where she has served for the past four years. With over 15 years of experience in employment for all abilities, Ivie has established herself as a seasoned professional in her field. Before assuming her current role, she worked as an employment coordinator for adults with disabilities, where she excelled in developing and implementing effective employment strategies. She is passionate about empowering job seekers to leverage their unique skills and abilities to achieve their career goals.

Krista Digregorio has worked for more than 20 years empowering people with disabilities to find and keep employment.  In her current position, Krista is part of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission’s NextGen Careers program.  She is leading the this new initiative’s west team who serve the Springfield and Worcester areas. The NextGen Careers program is an innovative new program at MRC for young adults 18-30. NextGen-ers explore the world of work, meanwhile learning to advocate for themselves, gain self-confidence and becoming more self-sufficient.