• MARCH 14 & 15, 2020

Speakers

Join autistic students, self-advocates and their allies as they come together to discuss ideas around revolutionary education…

Laura Nadine, Music Teacher/Self-advocate/Master of Ceremonies

We are thrilled Laura Nadine will return as our Master of Ceremonies, talent show organizer and panel moderator for Innovations in Education 2020. As an Autism Advocate, Laura Nadine has worked to bring music to students with disabilities. It was Dr. Shinichi Suzuki that said, “Every child can learn,” a philosophy she holds at the centre of her teaching approach. She began a music program at The Hirsch Academy, a school in Decatur, Georgia for students with special needs and ever since then she has continued to take on students with disabilities and complex motor needs, many who take lessons online using a webcam. Laura will be celebrating her 26th year as a music teacher in 2019, and is the parent of 2 young adults. She is the winner of many awards, including 2 state titles for her performance on violin and her compositions which she released on her first album Chasing Shadows. She is a published author, “I am Snamuh” and “Puzzles for Angie”, a public speaker, and posts regularly on her blog at LauraNadine.net. She also gives consultations for families of children with Autism, and In her free time, she volunteers as the team photographer for the Leaside Flames, a AA youth hockey team coached by her talented husband Brian Dooley.


Matt Hayes, Self-Advocate, Keynote Presenter

At age five Matt began using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) through training at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. At age six he wrote his first poem, “Trapped in Silence”. He has been a part of the Saint Louis Poetry Society since the age of 15 and is an active participant in writers’ workshops. Matt is the subject of the Emmy winning PBS documentary “My Voice: One Man’s Journey to Overcome the Silence of Autism”. As part of his advocacy work he co-founded the non-profit Typing to Speak. Matt has spoken at Yale University, presented his poetry as the featured guest poet at the Telluride Poetry Society, been interviewed on KOTO radio, presented at numerous autism and communication conferences, and regularly contributes critiques to various published poets. He currently collaborates on a forthcoming book of friendship tentatively titled “The Possibility of Joy”. Matt will also be contributing on the self-advocate panel, How To Advocate Like a Boss!, during the conference weekend.

Excellence from Rubble
In my mind the simplest things are the most complex because I find every subtlety and nuance, but the most complex things are the simplest. We have found ourselves in a state of disrepair, a state of rubble, relative to the towering masterpiece we contain inside. Translating that inner truth to an accurate outward presentation is our greatest challenge. We can get there, and we will; the inner excellence shining as our outward self.


Ashish Jain, Self-Advocate

My name is Ashish Jain; I am 21 years young. Four years back the letter board gave me a new lease on life, enabling communication where none existed. I am grateful to all who helped me, and I feel a deep responsibility to help others and to pay it forward. I am enrolled in an online high school, and halfway to attaining a high school diploma. Outside of school, I like to watch movies and participate in a book club with my friends. I will be presenting Men and Women of Letters as well as joining the Self-Advocate Panel Discussion: How To Advocate Like a Boss!

Men and Women of Letters
I am passionate about expanding age-appropriate educational opportunities for people who spell/type to communicate. I think our intelligence is not recognized because many of us have regulation and behavior issues, and our ability is often incorrectly ascribed to our communication partners. I will discuss what I believe needs to happen to increase opportunities for my community: a) educators need to believe in us without the requirement of scientific proof; b) the scientific community needs to conduct research and prove that the varied forms of Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) are valid communication tools, and; c) how we need to pursue rich online educational resources to prepare us for the future. Join me in this rich discussion!


Bob Williams and Susie Lotharius, Communication Activists

Bob Williams and Susie Lotharius have both played an integral part in launching CommunicationFIRST, the first national cross-disability non-profit that focuses on the rights of those with communication related disabilities. Bob Williams is a nationally recognized leader on policy issues relating to supporting people with the most significant disabilities to live, work and thrive in their own homes and communities and is currently serving as CommunicationFIRST’s senior strategic advisor. Bob was born with cerebral palsy and uses Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) to communicate effectively. Susie Lotharius is a founding board member of CommunicationFIRST and also serves as co-leader of Every Voice Matters ATL where she enjoys creating accessible opportunities for AAC users and their families to learn, grow and advocate.

Advocating for Communication Rights
Even though communication rights fall under the broader category of disability rights, guaranteed access to one’s most effective means of communication and the supports needed to access it is still at stake for many AAC users across the country. This presentation will help the audience gain a deeper understanding of the fight for communication rights within the wider disability rights movement. The audience will also learn how organizations like CommunicationFIRST are advocating for communication rights and will walk away with some strategies and tools they can use to advocate for communication rights.


Casey Woodfield, Ph.D. and Edlyn Peña, Ph.D., Researchers/Educators

Casey Woodfield is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary & Inclusive Education at Rowan University. Her research explores communication support partnerships, inclusive education, and stories of/through lived experiences of multimodal communication, interdependence and neurodiversity. Her work aims to counter socially constructed notions of competence and voice, guided by the perspectives of disabled people as critical agents of advocacy and change. Edlyn Peña is the chair and Associate Professor of the Education Leadership doctoral program at Cal Lutheran University. Her edited book, “Communication Alternatives in Autism” (2019), features ten prominent autistic individuals who advocate for communication and inclusion rights. As a scholar and director of the Autism and Communication Center, Dr. Peña’s service to the autism community has reached international audiences.

Making a Point: Autobiographies of Autistics who Type and Spell to Communicate
This presentation highlights key findings of an analysis of 30 autobiographical narratives of nonspeaking and minimally speaking autistic individuals who type, point, and spell to communicate. Our analysis of these narratives, originally published in the book “Leaders Around Me: Autobiographies of Autistics who Type, Point, and Spell to Communicate” (2019), was aimed at understanding the connections across stories and experiences that these authors choose to share about their lives. These autobiographical accounts and our analysis of them comprise a counternarrative from which to draw deeper understanding of experiences related to communication, inclusion and self-advocacy of leaders who type, point and spell to communicate. These stories challenge historically oppressive assumptions about competence and communication, while pushing for(ward) broader ideas about the possibilities of human engagement, experience, and connections that center neurodiverse ways of being. Join us as we discuss the highlights of these self-advocates work: who offer their experiences, perspectives and partnership in resisting ableist ideas of who can lead, learn, and control the narrative in the field.


Catherine McAlister and Erin McAlister, Self-Advocate and Communication Specialist

Catherine McAlister is a Junior at The Connections School of Atlanta where she excels in all subjects. She has lots of speech, but uses a letterboard to spell her thoughts out and express herself authentically.
Erin McAlister serves as Hirsch’s Communication Specialist, conducting unique individual and group student sessions that focus on building Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) skills. She also works with parents and families so that they may better support the communication needs of their neurodiverse children at home.

Unreliable Speakers, Movers & Shakers
This talk will focus on the gap between intention and action, and provide strategies to dig deeper for more reliable expression. Catherine will share her own experiences as an unreliable speaker and suggestions about what to do to support those like her and then answer questions from the audience, (body providing). A HUGE thank you to Mover Kaegan Smith and Shaker Noah Seback for their insight and contributions to this presentation.


Connections High School of Atlanta, Educators for High School and Young Adult

The teachers at Connections School of Atlanta – Carolyn Roberts, Hanley Bradfield, Ivan Riobo, Jahada Jones, Rebecca Richter, and Steve McInaney – who teach music, yoga, math, literature, history, and science, respectively, are passionate about bringing creative and interesting content to their classrooms. They each have educational and professional backgrounds in the subjects they teach. To learn more about each teacher, visit www.connectionsschool.org.

Conversations with Connections
The teaching team at Connections School of Atlanta will share about their experiences teaching high school curriculum to students with sensory movement differences. Join the conversation for project based learning ideas and perspectives on engaging different learning profiles in group settings. The teachers are ready to share mistakes made and lessons learned as well as offer other words of advice based on their experiences! The discussion will be moderated by Michele Kukler. Submit your questions in advance by emailing Michele at mkukler@connectionsschool.org.


Dan Rosien, Self-Advocate

Dan is a 19-year-old college student from Southern California who loves physics, math, and the great outdoors. He enjoys skiing, hiking, backpacking, biking, swimming, and advocating for communication rights. Dan travels the country presenting at conferences, including recent presentations in San Diego, Phoenix, and Sacramento, and an upcoming one for government employees in the state of Washington.

Opportunities Make Life Interesting
My life has been filled with countless opportunities which have shaped me into the person I am today. It is important for me to be active in my daily routine, within my community, and to always be adventurous. I am here as a self-advocate to tell my story and urge others to take a chance on the opportunities that come their way.


Dr. Dana Johnson, PhD, MS, OTR/L, Occupational Therapist and Founder of Invictus Academy

Dana is the owner of Interplay Therapy Center and the founder of Invictus Academy, a school supporting K-12 students in Tampa Bay, FL. She has a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy and a PhD in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Development. Dana is an ACTS (Accessing Communication Through Spelling) practitioner and mentor for S2C (Spelling to Communicate). Dana is also on the executive leadership cadre of I-ASC (International Association for Spelling as Communication), a non-profit organization to support the non-speaking community through education, advocacy, research and training. Dana has been working with the non-speaking community for almost 15 years, but had a paradigm shift 5 years ago that changed her perspective and the way she practices. She says, “Presuming competence and providing reliable communication opens up a whole new world for families. Communication is a right for all, and it is now my mission to ensure that all non-speakers are respected, have autonomy, and a way to communicate reliably.”

The Eyes Have It! Apraxia and Ocular Motor Control in the Classroom
This seminar will review ocular motor skills and why they are important for success in our daily tasks, academics, and communication. Participants will learn how to identify ocular motor skill struggles and who to refer to when further evaluation is needed. Specific ocular motor strategies for the classroom and home will be demonstrated with the opportunity to practice. Opportunities for hands on learning and practice will be supported with resources and materials for further learning.


Dustin Duby-Koffman and Chris Martin, Self-Advocate and Educator

Dustin Duby-Koffman is the author of “Eating Broccoli on the Moon” (Unrestricted Editions, 2019). He likes to travel with his family and in his imagination. He hopes to write many books about his journeys. Chris Martin is the recipient of grants from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. He is the co-founder and executive director of Unrestricted Interest, an organization dedicated to helping neurodivergent learners transform their lives through writing. Chris lives in Minneapolis, where he also teaches at Hamline University and Carleton College

My Mind Is Loud: Poetry and Apraxia
Beneath the silence of many apraxic students stirs a prodigious symphony of language. For Dustin Duby-Koffman, the formal patterns of poetry allow him to bring his talents to the surface. In this presentation you will encounter unforgettable poems and learn the secrets to how they emerged, complete with practical techniques for bringing out the poetry in others. Professor and Unrestricted Interest Co-Founder Chris Martin will share tips for helping neurodivergent learners transform their lives through writing.


Hridhay Bashyam, Rishi Jena, Jack Maynard, Anna Napolitano and Siddarth Ramaswamy, Self-Advocates

Hridhay Bashyam
I am 16 years old and I have had Autism for as long as I can remember. I am currently in my third year of high school, and I am aiming to finish my high school diploma in another two years. If you had asked me 6 years back if I hoped to finish high school on an academic track, “I would have said in my mind ‘only in my dreams.’” In fact, I would have stood mute stimming, because I didn’t have a way to say anything. My dream came true when I was taught to use the letterboard (through Rapid Prompting Method) to access curriculum and eventually to communicate. I transitioned from a special day class where I was learning letters, numbers and sight words, even at 5th grade, to a private school accessing regular education curriculum and learning things appropriate to my age. I truly love learning new things, and when I am learning, my world of autism blends with the real world. I am extremely thankful to OpenMind School and School for Independent Learners for giving me a fair chance by presuming competence, trusting my abilities and treating me like any other “normal” student. My other hobbies include admiring nature and spending time outside, dreaming about the cosmos and gazing at the sky, spending time with my adorable sister, and playing the violin. My future plans include working on my functional independence, going to college, having a
meaningful job, and advocating for age appropriate education for children with disabilities.

Rishi Jena
Rishi is 16 and currently attending Lambert High School as well as earning credits with an online high school. Rishi enjoys creative writing, teen dances, traveling to new places, piano lessons and social studies inclusion classes. Rishi is gifted in Math and pursuing Advanced Placement Calculus with High school teacher Jen Leon. Rishi enjoys writing his own blog and is one of the authors of the book entitled “Leaders around Me” which is available for purchase on Amazon.

Jack Maynard
Jack is a nonspeaking autistic guy who wants to make individuals, who think they are experts, more open to other ways of thinking. Depending on the situation he can be found advocating for the nonspeaking population. Jack thinks the letter boards have the potential to change the world. He thinks people would think differently if more people understood how to presume competence.

Anna Napolitano
Anna Napolitano is from Pennsylvania. She is an intelligent non-speaking person who learned to spell to communicate five years ago. She is excited to share her experience in the education system as a non-speaking student. She very much wants to help professionals and parents to better support their kids. She works to advocate for non-speaking people through her participation on the International Association for Spelling as Communication (I-ASC) Nonspeaking Leadership Council. Don’t try telling any person they can’t do anything they put their minds to. She is proof. You must believe in the ability of all people to achieve their dreams.

Siddharth Ramaswamy
I am currently a high schooler living in California with a passion for music and anything outdoors. I love helping others and want to be thought of as a kind, gentle and helpful person. I also have autism, which leads to many of my weaknesses, especially when it comes to speech and planning motor movements. However, I am very determined to overcome my weaknesses and achieve my goals. Academic learning was a huge challenge for me until the age of 14, when I discovered my “voice” with the letterboard. Even after that, finding a school that would accept my Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) was hard, and I was homeschooled. My life changed when my parents found the School for Independent Learners and the Open Mind School. These schools have provided a supportive and nurturing environment, where the teachers presume competence, trust my abilities and challenge me to do better each day. Outside of school, I love hiking, biking, swimming, skateboarding and music. I have been learning to play Indian Classical music on the violin from a very young age. It is very hard to translate the music in my head to my hands, but I have been practicing daily for over ten years! I love music because with music, I don’t need speech. In future, I would love to attend college, live independently, find a fulfilling job (perhaps be the first autistic Indian classical violinist in the world) and advocate for inclusion in all settings for people with disabilities.

Panel Discussion: Education Successes
Five powerful self-advocates will join together from all across the country to talk about their different educational experiences and what works and what does not work in the school system. They will talk about their personal successes and dreams as well as what the community can do to better support more inclusive educational experiences. You don’t want to miss this!


Elizabeth Vosseller, M.A. Director of Growing Kids Therapy Center and Executive Director of I-ASC and Monica van Schaik, MSW Candidate, I-ASC Leadership Cadre, S2C Practitioner

Elizabeth Vosseller is a native of Northern Virginia and is proud to call autism-friendly, Herndon, her hometown. Elizabeth has worked with individuals with complex communication and sensory-motor differences since 1995 in hospital, university and private practice settings. She is the Director of Growing Kids Therapy Center and is devoted to communication for nonspeaking individuals. In 2013, she began using Assistive Technology to teach students the purposeful motor skills to Spell to Communicate (S2C). Since witnessing countless nonspeaking, minimally and unreliably speaking individuals successfully communicate and learn through spelling and typing, Elizabeth and I-ASC (International Association for Spelling as Communication) are committed to ensuring ALL nonspeaking individuals have access to communication through training, education, advocacy and research. Elizabeth is honored to serve as the Executive Director for I-ASC. Monica van Schaik lived in Montreal, Quebec for 10 years where she worked as a Relationship Development Intervention (RDI®) Consultant, specialized tutor for neurodivergent learners, and disability rights community organizer. After discovering Spelling to Communicate two years ago, her world changed as she discovered the unheard voice in so many of her students. Not only did S2C ignite a drive to continue to incorporate innovative techniques into her practice, it exploded her passion for and belief in a world that embraces and celebrates neurodiversity. Monica recently relocated to Kitchener, Ontario to pursue a Masters in Social Work, during which she is researching how the neurodiversity paradigm changes dyslexic adults’ perceptions of self and to be closer to her family, including her unreliably speaking brother, who she is currently supporting with S2C.

Let Us Spell It Out For You
Elizabeth and Monica will talk about their journey of building a network of passionate and informed young people, called the Young Social Advocates Network, which is working to make awareness and acceptance of communication choice a reality. They will talk about how nonspeaking self advocates are leading this network, called I-ASC (International Association for Spelling as Communication). They will highlight how they are raising awareness and making change, and how you can get involved and support this community. They hope to inspire self-advocates to imagine a future of neurodiversity celebration as well as inspire researchers and educators to incorporate values of agency, autonomy, accessibility, and empowerment in their work. Join us and be inspired!


EJ O’Connor and Sabrina Lu Ekanayake, Self-Advocate and AAC Specialist

EJ O’Connor is a 13 year old Autism & AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) Expert. He set a goal to help others gain purposeful use of both static and dynamic AAC systems. To aid in this goal, his mother, Sabrina Lu Ekanayake, completed RPM (Rapid Prompting Method) training with Soma Mukhopadhay, received her Assistive Technology Certificate from Cal State Northridge and has almost completed her Master’s Degree in Educational Technology with the American College of Education.

Bridging the AAC Gap for Access to Curriculum at School: Assistive Technology Strategies
We are thrilled to share the strategies we have learned in our journey with AAC in the hope that it will increase access and opportunities for our community. EJ O’Connor “earned” his AAC assessment by showing his school that he could type when he was in first grade. After being “granted” an AAC app, his school staff was unable to implement it for anything more than basic needs which evolved into impulsive repetition. We needed purposeful communication methods and began homeschooling using RPM & S2C (Spelling to Communicate). Now we are able to use the dynamic AAC applications along with static boards to generalize skills across environments and Communication Partners. It’s just another mode to add to our robust toolkits and we can’t wait to share all that we have learned with you!


Hannah Rhinehart, LPMT, MT-BC, Music Therapist

Hannah Rhinehart is a licensed and nationally board certified music therapist, neurologic music therapist, and is certified in music therapy assisted childbirth. She serves as the Director of The George Center and President-Elect of the Music Therapy Association of Georgia. Hannah received her degree in Music Therapy from The University of Georgia and completed her clinical internship in private practice. Additionally, Hannah is fluent in American Sign Language and specializes in working with children and adults with neurological differences, developmental delays, traumatic brain injury, and adults with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Beat of My Heart: How the Intrinsic Nature of Music Improves the Brain-Body Connection
Music is intrinsic to human nature and can be an incredible tool for regulation within the body. When entraining to a steady beat, you prime the motor system to respond to signals from the brain at regularly planned intervals. When properly administered, musical intervention can simultaneously provide the cognitive, proprioceptive, and vestibular input to allow the communication in our neural networks to work together instead of separately. When our brain’s signals aren’t allowed to be sent as intended, our bodies turn to fight or flight and that signal becomes confused and is exhibited as a ‘stim.’ The goal of this presentation is to provide insight on how this modality and these interventions are used therapeutically to increase the opportunity for improved brain/body connection and motor control.


The Hirsch Academy, Educators for K-8th grade

A handful of Hirsch Academy educators and specialists will be presenting on this panel discussion. The teachers and specialists work together to teach and partner with each K-8th grade student to support all Common Core subjects plus: Art, Yoga, Philosophy, Cooking, Floortime, Chess, Drama, Blog Writing, Creative Writing, Fitness, Women’s Studies, Chess, ADL Classes, Capoeira and more!

Educators to Educators: Let’s Talk!
The teachers and specialists from the Hirsch Academy are excited to be back at the Innovations Conference 2020. They invite you to come and ask questions and listen to experiences teaching elementary and middle school students with sensory, movement and communication differences. From Science to Art and even Philosophy for first graders! Each staff member has gems of advice to share and stories to tell. We want to answer your questions about how to create meaningful curriculum for groups, how to support a range of motor differences in academic and non-academic subjects, how to support communication with the youngest of students in a classroom and much more. Shelley Carnes, Head of School at The Hirsch Academy, will moderate this discussion. Please email questions in advance and specific areas you want to learn more about to: JBrownley@Hirschacademy.org


Graciela Lotharius and Jordyn Pallett, Self-Advocates and Molly K. Rearick, Ed.D., Founder & Executive Director of IGNITE Collective, Inc.

Two years ago after Innovations, Jordyn Pallett made the bold and courageous step to ask a beautiful, smart, funny, and tenacious Graciela Lotharius to be his girlfriend. Their romance has flourished since over Zoom dates and several in-person visits dedicated to spending time together. They are proof that love is possible with a crazy apraxic body, and want to share with the world and make a difference for others like them who crave romantic love. Molly K. Rearick is Founder and Executive Director of IGNITE Collective Inc., a non-profit supporting young and older adults with sensory, movement and communication differences in California. She brings her experience supporting adults with sensory, motor, and communication differences who are “dating” to this team. You can read more about Graciela, Jordyn and Molly in their individual bios

Joyfully Practicing the Motor Required for Romantic Relationships
It is wonderful to be in a romantic relationship with a person you love. However, without proper support it is difficult for individuals with dyspraxia to talk and use their bodies in the ways they want. Living the fullest lives possible is our goal in delivering this important session. We will present what works best in supporting our bodies and will spend time discussing that while love has no borders in our minds, it needs guidance in order to be expressed by our bodies. Graciela and Jordyn will share lived romantic experiences, Molly will discuss ways that staff and family members can mindfully support relationships, and all will lead an open discussion on the topic.


Alexandra Davis, Graciela Lotharius, Matt Hayes, Laura Nadine, Ashish Jain, and Jordyn Pallett, Self-Advocates

Alexandra Davis attends high school at The Connections School of Atlanta and participates in monthly tours with prospective parents at The Hirsch Academy, her alma mater. She says, “I am a self-advocate. The major focus of my life is to make the world assume competency.”

Graciela Lotharius lives in Atlanta and is most interested in really making a difference through her self advocacy and through pursuing her dream of getting a real education. She writes about her experiences as an autistic with high support needs at www.daretolisten.org. She is excited to share the many ways that she is living her life without limits as an autistic teen. Graciela will also be co-presenting Joyfully Practicing the Motor Required for Romantic Relationships.

Joining Alexandra and Graciela are the following presenters:
Matt Hayes, who brings his years of advocating across many forms of media and his experience co-founding the non-profit Typing to Speak to this panel, while also presenting Excellence from Rubble as this year’s keynote speaker; Ashish Jain who brings his zeal for widening opportunities for age-appropriate education for people who type/spell to communicate to the panel and also presents Men and Women of Letters;
Jordyn Pallett who brings his passion for empowering his peers’ full self-expression to this panel and also presents How to Create a Powerful Communication Partnership; and moderated by our MC Laura Nadine, who has fought for self-advocacy from day one and guides and empowers others to follow her lead. You can find more information about these panel members in their individual bios.

How to Advocate Like A Boss!
We are a panel of self-advocates that will dispel common myths about our communication methods and will share our successes, and stumbling blocks, as we have advocated for ourselves and our peers. We will talk about the possible avenues to contribute your voice in a way that allows your expression to be heard and positively received. To turn the tide of belief and understanding, more self-advocate voices are needed! We hope to inspire you to join our Boss! choir. For those researchers out in the audience, please join this discussion, because we will have some ideas to share!


Ivan Riobo, BS, BBA, MBA, MSCS, Educator

Ivan has been teaching STEM, Mathematics and Economics for the last 3 years at The Hirsch Academy, Connections School of Atlanta, as well as doing private tutoring with a wide range of students from elementary to college level using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) methods. Additionally, Ivan is an Affiliated Researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology within the School of Interactive Computing, where he focuses on understanding how technology can help autistic individuals and their families to have a better quality of life.

Teaching STEM: Having Fun while Teaching Innovative Academics in an Inclusive Classroom
The objective of this talk is to share group and individual lesson experiences of working on a solid STEM curriculum in highly inclusive classrooms with all types of bodies and profiles. During this presentation you will see how an engaging, integrated and solid STEM curriculum can be built, concrete examples of activities, videos and feedback from a mini-panel of students using AAC.


Jen Leon, Ph.D., Educator

Dr. Leon has been teaching high school mathematics at The Paideia School in Atlanta, GA since 2003, where she also serves as faculty sponsor to Neurodiversity, Amnesty International, and Girl’s Tech/Robotics clubs. Additionally, Dr. Leon specializes in teaching mathematics and STEAM-related concepts to students with sensory motor differences, serving them in private and small-group settings and summer camps. Dr. Leon is a passionate advocate for the neurodiverse community as an educator as well as a parent.

Communicating Mathematically
This session will shed light on the experiences and perspectives of mathematics educator, Dr. Jen Leon, and her students. Dr. Leon teaches a wide range of mathematics (Algebra, Trigonometry, Geometry, Precalculus, Calculus, Advanced Statistics, etc.), privately and in small groups, to high school students with sensory movement differences. The presentation will include video of instruction demonstrating implementation of alternative mathematical communication techniques and will highlight useful mathematics-related technologies.



John McCarty, Self-Advocate

John is an active self-advocate. Having worked to help form the Georgia self-advocacy group, Uniting For Change, John is passionate about persons with disabilities directing all aspects of their lives. John presents on various disability issues throughout the State of Georgia. He has just completed his work as one of six Self Advocacy Resource and Technical Assistance Center (SARTAC) Fellows for 2019-2020.

Who’s in charge here? Self Advocates Directing Their Own Lives
Supported Decision Making (SDM) is a way for people with disabilities to get control over their lives. SDM formalizes the process that we all go through as we make important decisions. A person with a disability may need to have more or different support depending upon the situation. Decisions are not made for them, they are made by them. Use of SDM can deflect guardianship or help to terminate guardianship and restore rights. Find out more about SDM and learn how to get started at John’s talk at Innovations in Education.


Jordyn Pallett, Self-Advocate

Jordyn is a 16-year old non-speaking autistic from Ontario, Canada. Living to make a difference with his peers and the world-at-large is his jam. Author of Jordyn’s Rocky Journey, a weekly blog, he shares his experiences and insights one letter at a time intending each week his words make a difference. He absolutely believes that love, joy, and peace must get to be the World’s default setting. Jordyn will present, How to Create a Powerful Communication Partnership. He will also join with others to present Joyfully Practicing the Motor Required for Romantic Relationships, as well as participating in the panel discussion with his peers, How to Advocate LIke a Boss!

How to Create a Powerful Communication Partnership
Wanting to elevate your partnership with your child, students, or clients? This interactive presentation will level up your ability to joyfully empower and be a masterful Communication Partner. Come prepared to share where you are in your partnership journey and learn what the non-speaking experts are wanting and needing. Good Communication Partnership begins with an empowering attitude, listening intentionally, and a limitless belief.


Kaegan Smith, Self-Advocate

Kaegan was able to communicate after 18 years of trial and error. His voice can be heard through spelling on a letter board which was the result of tireless effort and determination through the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM), an academic method that has empowered Kaegan’s self expression. He is currently studying Sustainability Science online through the University of Illinois and enjoys the outdoors, with hiking and trail running at the top of his favorites list. You can usually find Kaegan up on a mountain if he isn’t studying or inspiring others.

Dear Me
This presentation represents Kaegan’s passion for empowering others to communicate and advocate for themselves and for others. His important work culminates in the launching of his latest project: Dear Me, A Mentorship Project. This online program is geared toward inspiring and encouraging others like himself toward self expression. He will also share his plea to educators and professionals that seeking autistic mentorship should be seen as essential in their daily work with the neurodivergent community. During this talk, he can show you how all of this and more can be accomplished!


Katherine Shuey, Regulation Specialist

Katherine Shuey is the Founder and Director of Beyond Play, an Atlanta-based organization dedicated to promoting access and advocacy for the disability community. Working in schools across Atlanta, Katherine and her team consult with teachers and families to provide accommodations, inclusion opportunities, and adaptive strategies for students with sensory, regulation, and motor differences.

101 Strategies to Support Impulsivity
Running through the grocery store, putting objects in one’s mouth, throwing fragile items – Katherine will talk about how she and her team have joined with her students in these real world scenarios and found intentional ways to support unpredictable impulses. In this presentation, she will give practical strategies to support impulsive body movements in a classroom, at home, and in the community. She and her team have learned that these strategic interventions empower students to take an active role in their own autonomy, which allow for higher levels of control and less reactionary responses. Katherine’s discussion will show how this partnership is key – building both strategies in-the-moment and long-term goals for regulation supports. Access to this lifelong toolkit supports students in accomplishing tasks with meaning and purpose. Join with Katherine to discover all that she’s learned with these powerful partnerships with the neurodivergent community.


Lisa Mihalich Quinn, M.Ed., M.A. and Casey Woodfield, Ph.D., Educator and Researcher

Lisa Mihalich Quinn is a special educator and Executive Director of Reach Every Voice in Rockville, Maryland. Lisa works with non-speaking and unreliably speaking individuals to develop effective communication. She firmly believes in respecting neurodiversity, presuming competence, and listening to the voices of disabled people. Casey Woodfield, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary & Inclusive Education at Rowan University. Her research and teaching explore communication support partnerships, inclusive education, and stories of/through lived experiences of multimodal communication, interdependence, and neurodiversity. Together, Lisa and Casey collaborate on research and practice aimed at centering the perspectives and experiences of autistic people as leaders, partners, and critical agents of change.

Fun, Games and Friendship: Engaging Strategies for Building Communication Practice and Community
This presentation will discuss findings from collaborative research into constructing engaging practice and social activities with autistic adolescents who type/point/spell to communicate. By the end of the session, participants will be able to: a) identify games a group of autistic teens who type, spell and point to communicate find both highly engaging and beneficial in building communication skills; b) utilize commonly played games as an inclusive social activity for groups of friends or with family; and c) adapt popular, readily accessible games to target multiple skill-building activities. This session will discuss experiences, expressed preferences, and creative adaptations that autistic adolescents deem most important and effective in using games to support communication practice, purposeful movement, and relationship building with peers. This work, and the setting in which it takes place, includes active contributions from autistic self-advocates who type/point/spell to communicate.


Mark Utter and Rowan Wild Riggs, Self-Advocates

Mark and Rowan are two guys from Northern Vermont who have autism and type to communicate. They also are a teen in school and a guy who would bore you with the sad tales of his forty-year old school stories. Rowan is a published poet and Mark, a philosopher who created a movie about his life called “I Am in Here: A View of My Daily Life with Good Suggestions from my Intelligent Mind.” They found each other and their minds melded into a special mix that made their lives more complete. Rowan became Mark’s student and intern into the journey of existence.

How to Develop Respect for Our Intelligence So the Monkey Trainings Dissolve into the History Books
Now you folks are in for a surprise. Using the format of a self-help book we’ll give you guidelines for developing respect in educational settings with self-advocates, such as ourselves, with complex motor sensory differences. We want to free the world of monkey trainings by releasing the bonds of prejudice towards people with autism. We need to talk about prejudice. We are not at the table of our own lives. We’ll use excerpts from Mark’s movie to joyfully bring this to life. We’ll role-play scenarios that show things working well and, also, drearily not. You’ll also see us type our brilliant words in ‘live time.’


Michele Kukler, M.S., Educator

Michele is the Head of School at Connections School of Atlanta, a neurodiverse high school where differences are celebrated and all students have access to their authentic voices. Michele holds a master’s degree in youth development leadership from Clemson University and has taught students at every age from preschool to high school, in both public and private schools. Michele is passionate about strengthening communities and empowering young people to be leaders.

Small Steps to Big Change
This presentation is for anyone who seeks to challenge the status quo, exchange the old for the new, and ignite change in their communities. Big change takes time, and it starts with small steps such as asking questions, thinking differently, and turning tension into growth. Teachers, parents, and professionals, who would like to introduce the ideas of presuming competence to their coworkers, school staff, administrators, families, and IEP teams, will find this presentation particularly helpful.


Molly Rearick, Ed.D and Casey Woodfield, Ph.D: Researchers

Molly K. Rearick, Ed.D. is Founder and Executive Director of IGNITE Collective Inc., a non-profit supporting people with developmental disabilities in California. She is also part-time faculty in the Graduate School of Education at California State University, Northridge; President of Cal-TASH; and an educational consultant focusing on communication- and transition-related supports. Casey Woodfield, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary & Inclusive Education at Rowan University. Her research and teaching explore communication support partnerships, inclusive education, and stories of/through lived experiences of multimodal communication, interdependence, and neurodiversity.

Promising Possibilities: Experiences and Educational Practices Supporting Students with Sensorimotor and Learning Differences
This presentation will discuss initial findings from an ongoing qualitative research study that explores the experiences of students, and those who support them, in a school grounded in the neurodiversity paradigm, with a focus on multimodal communication access. We will discuss: 1) best practices around incorporating multimodal communication opportunities; 2) supports that are helpful in reducing barriers associated with sensory, movement, and learning differences; and 3) what it means to be a neurodivergent student. Join us as we help to translate findings into concrete strategies for practice, informed by experiences and promising methods for students and self-advocates with sensory, motor, and learning differences who type/point/spell to communicate, as well as those who support them.


Nicholas D’Amora, Self-Advocate with Eileen Cunningham, Mary Giorgio & Susanne Cannella, , Founders of On Your Mark’s Bridge to Communication and Molly Rearick, Ed.D, Co-Founder and Executive Director of IGNITE Collective, Inc.

Nicholas D’Amora is 21 years old and has Autism, but that is not how he defines himself. He loves cooking, listening to music, going to concerts, working out, dancing, and playing various adult games with friends. He enjoys teaching others about Autism and clarifying all the misconceptions many people have. Nicholas is one of the contributing authors in the book “Leaders Around Us”.

Eileen Cunningham is a Director of Family Support/Respite program at On Your Mark (OYM) for the past 20 years. She has a master’s degree in Special Education and was a classroom teacher for 8 years. Eileen is one of the founders of On Your Mark’s Bridge to Communication Program and is a Spelling to Communicate (S2C) Practitioner. Mary Giorgio is a Director of Therapeutic Recreation Program at On Your Mark for the past 30 years. She has a bachelor’s degree in special education and taught students in NYC with Developmental Disabilities ranging for ages 3+ years old. Mary is one of the founders of OYM’s Bridge to Communication Program and is a Spelling to Communicate (S2C) Practitioner. Susanne Cannella is a NYC certified special education teacher. She has a master’s degree in special education and has been teaching for over 21 years in Staten Island, NY. She has taught students with autism ranging from 3 – 30 years old. She has worked both in classroom and homes, providing 1:1 instruction to students and offering training to assist both teachers and staff. Currently Susanne works at OYM’s Bridge to Communication Program where she provides regulation and support to adults who use a letter board/keyboard for communication. Molly K. Rearick is Founder and Executive Director of IGNITE Collective Inc., a non-profit supporting people with developmental disabilities in California. She is also part-time faculty in the Graduate School of Education at California State University, Northridge; President of Cal-TASH; and an educational consultant focusing on communication- and transition-related supports.

Bridge to Communication: Support in Real Life
This presentation will focus on how to support adults with sensory, movement, and communication difference in real-life situations: college, dating, on-the-job, fitness, medical appointments, traveling, and more. The differences between school-based support and adult support and the facets and challenges of providing real life communication support and continued education to adults will also be highlighted. Join this important discussion to learn how these different organizations support and celebrate individuals with motor and sensory challenges with dignity, respect and trust!


Susan Lisenby, Educator

Susan is a lead teacher at the Hirsch Academy, an avid collector of books and a lover of stories. Motivated by endless curiosity, she believes in the undeniable power of student inquiry. It is her pleasure to invite you to wonder with her at her Creating Immersive Curriculum talk at Innovations in Education 2020.

Creating Immersive Curriculum: The Influence of Voice and Choice
Excellent teachers are masterful storytellers. They instinctively know what neural and cognitive research supports: that stories have the power to engage, influence and transform their students at a much deeper level than information alone. Join me to learn how to situate your students within the context of the story to instantly expand the learning experience!


Dr. Veronica Vidal, SLP MS and Dr. Laura DeThorne, CCC-SLP, Therapists/Researchers

Dr. Vidal, SLP MS, is an Assistant Professor at the University of Los Andes (Chile). Her research focuses on characterizing students on the autism spectrum with inconsistent access to speech and designing instructional programs to facilitate peer interactions in the classroom using a distributed framework of communication.
Dr. DeThorne, CCC-SLP is Chair of Speech, Language & Hearing Sciences at Western Michigan University. Her scholarship focuses on supporting communication competence in the everyday interactions of students with communication differences, including autism. She recently edited a set of papers on autism for ASHA SIG 1. Her work has been funded by NICHD, U.S. Department of Education, and private foundations.

Reimagining Strategies: What More We Can Do to Support Autistic Students in the Classroom?
Dr. Vidal and Dr. DeThorne’s presentation will apply the social-ecological models into intervention practices for supporting peer interaction in students on the autism spectrum. Specifically, it will highlight differences between the skills versus supports-based approach to SLP services, reviews data from a mixed methods study of social support, and provides audience members a direct opportunity to apply relevant supports-based strategies to their own clinical practice.


Conference Schedule: