Autism Conference Breakout Sessions

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Registrants will be able to register for morning and afternoon Breakout Sessions on the Autism Connections’ Virtual Platform.

Breakout Session sign ups occur PRIOR to the event date. Registrants will be emailed with their sign in credentials and can then review breakouts and sign up on SOCIO, when it opens for review one week before the event.  It will not be possible to sign up for breakouts on the day of the event.

Breakout sessions will close to new attendees 10 minutes after they begin. Please make sure you are on time for the start of each breakout session.


Scroll down below to view the descriptions of the breakout sessions.

Breakout Session Descriptions

Thank you for joining us for the 30th Annual Autism Conference! Browse each session’s description below.

Presenter: Peter McLean, M.Ed, Training and Development Manager, Pathlight.

Description: As family members, friends and care providers of individuals with autism we may be inclined to do things for those individuals which can limit their development. To promote learning, independence and personal growth, this workshop asks you to take a step back and examine our relationships. Join this interactive session for a refreshing prospective on building trusting connections and promoting greater independence. We will cover topics from the most basic need of feeling safe to building trusting relationships as we consider our approach to communication, community membership and promoting reasonable risk.  You will walk away with new ideas to best support growth and happiness.

Presenters: DDS Autism Program Regional Coordinators: Pamela Ferguson, Lea Hill, Shannon Hubley, Maria Stefano

Description: Regional Autism Program Coordinators from The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) will initiate a discussion and provide insights on Adult Autism eligibility and potential DDS resources. This presentation will focus on the Autism without intellectual disability population- in these changing times. This breakout session is designed for individuals, support staff, family members and natural supports, and any interested stakeholders. Topics covered will be Adult Autism eligibility, potential services available, and lessons learned through providing virtual supports.

Presenter: Kerry Magro, Ed.D, Educational Technology Leadership

Description: Bullying can be a lifelong concern for our loved ones with developmental disabilities. This presentation will offer a first-hand account of a young man who was bullied as he was growing up on the autism spectrum. He will share tips for educators and students to take a stand against bullying.

Presenters: Hillary Jellison, MS.CCC-SLP, ATP and Nerissa Hall, PhD..CCC-SLP, ATP, Communicare

Description: Using the framework of the board game Chutes and Ladders we will outline the strategies and implementation tools for families and educators to support successful AAC use across multiple environments. We will review principals of AAC implementation: AAC modeling, creating opportunities for communication, and the triadic model of language and prompting hierarchy. We will review the ‘chutes’ that may derail successful AAC use as well as how to use varying tools and strategies to overcome these ‘chutes’ . We will share some case studies of success and hear from some parents on their strategies for successful AAC implementation in the home setting.

Presenters: DDS Autism Service Coordinators Erica Donovan and Ashley McGrath

Description: The panel is comprised of adults with autism who will share their experiences, employment support staff from Community Options, Viability, NEBA and Western Mass Training Consortium as well as two DDS Coordinators. This panel discussion will address the unique challenges that adults experience when planning for independent living and employment. Panelists will talk about their unique situations with housing, job search and working. Areas of focus include: supports provided as people prepare for employment, living independently and the challenges it presents, and planning for the future.

Presenters: J. Aleah Nesteby, MSN, FP Director of LGTBQ Services and Elliot Ezcurra, Trans Health Navigator, Cooley Dickinson Hospital

Description: Transgender and gender-expansive people have always existed within autistic communities. However, the recent increases in visibility of transgender people overall has boosted the visibility of autistic trans people. Participants will gain a greater understanding of gender-expansive children, adolescents and adults. This workshop is for educators, parents and health care providers.

Presenters: Maggie Rice, M.Ed, Director of Whole Children & Whole Selves and Brian Melanson, MSW, Sexuality Educator, Whole Selves

Description: From 10 years of expertise teaching Boundaries and Relationships, we have developed accessible ways to teach complex topics around self-discovery, friendships, dating and sexuality. We will share strategies and skills for facilitating meaningful conversations and interventions in your own setting.

Presenter: Stacey Gordon, Puppeteer, and the voice of Julia on Sesame Street

Note: Stacey will be a keynote speaker at the conference as well as a breakout session presenter.

Description: Puppetry has been used all over the world to tell stories and bridge relationships for centuries.
Parents, teachers, therapists, and counselors are often encouraged to use puppets with children, but left without instruction on how to do so effectively. In this breakout session, you’ll join Sesame Street puppeteer, Stacey Gordon, for an introduction to puppeteering for parents
and providers. You’ll explore new ways to incorporate puppets into your work and how to use puppetry to connect with others in a more meaningful way. Discover how much more compelling your work can be with puppeteering skills that match the heart of what you do.
Bringing puppetry into your world doesn’t need to be difficult or expensive.

In the first part of this breakout session, Stacey will introduce attendees to inexpensive, easy-to-make puppets that can be just as effective as top-of-the-line, custom-made work. Stacey will guide participants through creating their own practice puppet (with a downloadable pdf), and will teach everyone
how to bring puppets of various styles to life with purpose. You’ll learn how to bring focus to your puppet, how to identify and express emotions, and tips and tricks to create deeper connections with your audience, whether your work is in-person or online, with groups or
one-on-one. Participants are encouraged to print the PDF puppet kit ahead of time and have scissors and tape (or a stapler) ready to go for puppet-construction. Everyone is encouraged to turn on their cameras, interact, ask questions, and participate with enthusiasm as we dive into an age-old art form and discover the power of play.

Good skills to have for this workshop are: Using scissors to accurately cut paper; applying tape (or use of a stapler); coloring (optional); holding your arm up for several minutes at a time; opening & closing your hand; muting and unmuting yourself when requested; communicating in front of a group; watching yourself
on-camera; self-advocacy; being kind to yourself; being open to learning a new skill.

Presenter: Jacqueline Williams Hines, Co-Founder of Williams and LaRoc Consulting


Description: This workshop will explore cultural inhibitors to early and accurate diagnosis of autism in the African American population, as well as systemic bias and disconnects between this at risk population and systems of delivery that directly impact diagnosis, access to services and service delivery.

Presenter: Morénike Giwa Onaiwu, PhD(c), MA

Note: Morénike will be a keynote speaker at the conference as well as a breakout session presenter.

Description: Existing at the intersection of multiple marginalizations dramatically shapes the way an individual perceives the world and is perceived by the world. Utilizing facts as well as personal experience, this dynamic presentation highlights some of the unique ways that gender and race impact individuals with disabilities (including neurodevelopmental disabilities i.e. autism).

Presenters: Chris Kennedy, Regional Director and Brya Emery, Director of Admissions and Enrollment, College Steps

Description: How teams can support students in their transition to a post-secondary education environment with a focus on post-secondary or pre-employment goals. Topics include the program overview, age-appropriate transition supports, partnerships both on- and off-campus, and monitoring student goals and progress towards greater independence.

For individuals or those supporting individuals who could benefit from transitional supports as they seek a college experience focused on post-secondary or pre-employment goals. Individuals would be interested in a transition to more independence within the post-secondary environment with peer and professional support through goals and participation in course(s) and in the campus community.

Presenter: Robyn Thom, MD, Lurie Center for Autism - Massachusetts General Hospital

Description: This presentation will begin with a review of the common medical comorbidities affecting children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The bidirectional relationship between medical conditions and problematic behaviors will be discussed. We will then discuss challenges that are commonly encountered by individuals with ASD in the medical setting and how a collaborative patient/family-centered approach can decrease distress and facilitate access to medical care. The presentation will conclude with an interactive case-based discussion.

Presenter: Kirstin Birtwell, PhD, Lurie Center for Autism - Massachusetts General Hospital

Description: Dr. Birtwell will discuss behavioral and cognitive-behavioral therapeutic approaches for ASD and specifically ways in which traditional interventions can be modified for children and adolescents who present with ASD and co-occurring anxiety, behavioral, and mood disorders.

Presenter: Julie Hayden, BCBA, LABA, Behavior Assist

Description: Participants will learn to set expectations across all stakeholders involved in client treatment. In-person, telehealth or hybrid service delivery models are now available from most providers. Ensuring clients and their families understand these options and how they may be utilized from initial conversations through intake, assessment, and treatment will help providers deliver individualized, effective treatment.

Presenters: Nancy Farnsworth and Zach Smith, Pathlight

Description: Special Education services and the IEP can be difficult to navigate. We will be discussing the important role communication plays amongst Team members, parents and the student. Topics will include role of team members, life experience, success stories and pitfalls, and strategies and tools to build an effective team and positive journey for the student. There will be an allotted time for questions and answers.

Presenter: Maura K. Sullivan, MPA, Director of Government Affairs, Program Director/Instructor, Operation House Call, The Arc of Massachusetts

Description: Maura will provide an overview of the needed services and supports for people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities as we begin to emerge from this crisis. She will present a practical, hands-on and effective approach to lobbying with your elected officials.

Presenters: Justin Chambers, BCBA, LABA, SLPA and Amber Tower, BCBA, LABA, Positive Behavior Supports Corporation

Description: Participants will learn to use strategies that build rapport with caregivers and providers. Once rapport is established caregivers may be more likely to engage in treatment strategies and trainings. Research has shown that the caregivers trained in behavioral techniques can train other collaborators in the procedures they have been taught. This may increase treatment integrity and effectiveness for treatments in which caretakers are involved.

Presenters: Meg Gaydos and Phoebe Goodman, Pathways to Friendship, The Arc of Massachusetts

Description: Pathways to Friendship consultants will share stories of connecting people, the benefits of inclusive friendships, and also what to do when efforts are distracted and misled, which even when well-intended, can be terrible barriers to relationships. Making connections is exactly what we plan to occur when we are looking at enriching people’s lives and our communities. Each section will emphasize the opportunity for people to build relationships within their communities, naturally wherever they live, learn, work and play. Support on how to encourage friendships for people with autism in different facets of everyday life will be explored.

Ready to register? Buy your tickets here!

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

We're sorry, but all tickets sales have ended because the event is expired.

Venue: Autism Connections’ Virtual Event Platform

Time: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm