Autistic Community Summit: Detailed Schedule

Check back regularly for any schedule or speaker updates. This schedule may change. To register for the Summit, click here.

If you want to see a social narrative, click here.

To see the Summit Code of Conduct, click here.

8-9 a.m. Registration opens

9-9:45 a.m. Discussion Sessions

We’ll begin our day with some optional discussion sessions. If you’re not an early bird, sleep in and join us at 10 for the keynote panel, but if you want to get things kicked off right away, this is a chance to talk about hot topics in the autism community and start getting to know other people at the Summit.

1. The Problems with Transition from School to Adulthood

Led by Daren Howard

This session will be a workgroup style: Daren will have questions and prompts to get you thinking, and the group will work together to brainstorm the ways that we see transition is not currently working and how we wish it would work better. Topics we may discuss include respecting the autonomy and intelligence of our kids even when they’re young, what supports are missing and which are currently in place, as well as the special education to guardianship pipeline.

AuSM will be inviting representatives from Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services to virtually attend this session to gain insight.

2. Aging and Autism

Led by Beth Pitchford

Are you getting older and looking for resources, information, and experiences of other older adults with autism? This discussion group will talk about what information is out there, allow people time to share their personal experiences, and discuss the unique challenges of getting older while autistic.

3. Autism and Intersectionality

Led by Dr. Anila Khan and Nemeh Al-Sarraj

Autism can affect anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, religion, age, or any other demographic. This discussion will talk about how those intersections can affect what it’s like to be autistic. Join us to talk about the unique challenges you experience in your intersections. We’ll talk about underdiagnosis, racism, internalized ableism, different cultural conceptions of autism, and more!

4. Get to Know Each Other in the Hangout Room

In addition to a Quiet Space, this year’s Autistic Community Summit will also have a room where attendees can hang out and socialize. We’ll have activities throughout the day, but you’re also welcome to simply come and chat. For the first hour of the day, we’ll be posting questions like “What brings you pride in your autism?” and inviting you to share your answers.

10 a.m.-11 a.m. Keynote Panel: Building Inclusive Autistic Communities and Relationships That Survive Conflict

Panelists: Aja Wolfe, Rat Zahav, Meredith McLinn

A woman stands next to a slide presentation, speaking into a microphone

As the Minnesota autism community has grown and aged, many autistics have found that even within groups of other neurodivergent people, we still struggle to maintain our relationships and communities. This panel will include a variety of community members who have insights on why we struggle to stay resilient in our relationships. We’ll discuss methods for conflict resolution that don’t end in broken friendships and splintered communities, strategies to be more inclusive and avoid cliques, and ground ourselves in the strengths that our community has as autistics.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Breakout Sessions 1

1. Autistic Mental Health presented by Amelia Maciejewski (30 minute presentation – 11:30 a.m.-12 p.m.)

There is a high prevalence of co-occurring mental health problems among autistic people; yet there are several common barriers to accessing mental healthcare services that meet the unique and intersectional needs of the community. This presentation will discuss common co-occurring mental health diagnoses, barriers to navigating mental healthcare services, information about mental health crises, and tips for taking care of your mental health- from a neurodiverse perspective. You’ll also learn about recommendations for preventative care and what to do in a crisis, walking away with mental health “band-aids” you can use in-the-moment when feeling overwhelmed, depleted, or anxious.

Amelia Maciejewski, MSN, RN, PHN is a graduate of Metropolitan State University’s Entry Level Master of Nursing program. She works as a nurse in a mental healthcare setting, and the long-term goal of her practice is to improve healthcare quality, equity, access, and outcomes for neurodiverse populations. She is an autistic mom of two autistic kids and is passionate about working to eliminate bias & stigma surrounding neurodivergence in healthcare settings.

2. What Is Neurodivergent Affirming Support? presented by Michelle Swerin (30 minute presentation – 12-12:30 p.m.)

Neurodivergent affirming support sounds simple and straightforward in theory, but in practice it can be overwhelming and confusing. Together we will discuss the basics of what neurodivergent affirming support is. In addition we will discuss and practice simple strategies for home, school, and work. We will wrap up our time by discussing advocacy and steps to obtain affirming support and care, and why it is so important.

Michelle Swerin is a neurodivergent licensed therapist and instructional designer. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Clinical Innovation and Integration at Create Space Health, an organization that provides support programs, courses, and therapy via text and telehealth, as well as neurodivergent, meditation, and mental health tools and training to organizations.

3. ASL and Accessibility for All presented by Bailey Jameson 

ASL is a language that is both useful and beautiful: it isn’t only practical for people in the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community. This session will explore how ASL can help people who struggle with processing disorders or verbal communication. Participants will learn some basic signs, as well as information about how ASL can improve memory.

Bailey Jameson is a 27 year old who grew up in Leavenworth Washington and moved to Minnesota in fall 2020. She has several disabilities: she is autistic and physically disabled. She loves music and loved learning sign language, especially with music. She has taught several classes from churches to tutoring to helping teach at college and working in school districts. She believes that ASL is a useful tool for all people.

4. Panel: Current Issues in Special Education presented by Jillian Nelson, Maren Hulden and Joyner Emerick

2022-2023 was a busy season when it came to legislation and special education. Join us for this panel to hear about current policy and legislative work in Minnesota special education, as well as other hot topics in the special education sphere. We’ll share information about how you can make a difference, as well as the current top of mind issues.

Jillian Nelson, Community Resource and Policy Advocate for the Autism Society of Minnesota, was diagnosed with autism as a young adult. With a degree in human services and a background in self-advocacy, she has dedicated her career to helping others with autism achieve their goals, advocating for system change, and spreading a message of education and autism acceptance. Nelson currently sits on The Governor’s Council for Developmental Disabilities. She also has worked in employment services, helping others with autism secure and retain appropriate, successful employment.

Joyner Emerick is an education consultant and strategist with over three decades of lived experience in the Minneapolis schools network, as both a student and a parent. Joyner brings unique expertise to forums on special education, academic equity, and responsive instruction, specializing in the strategic alignment of initiatives across service sectors and operationalizing connections across public, private, and non-profit organizations to promote improved outcomes for systemically underserved learners. Joyner campaigned as an openly autistic, multiply disabled candidate for Minneapolis School Board and was elected in November 2022.

Maren Hulden is a Supervising Attorney at the Minnesota Disability Law Center, a statewide project of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and Minnesota’s designated Protection & Advocacy organization for children and adults who have disabilities. At MDLC, Maren leads the Youth Services and Employment teams, through which she supports MDLC staff to advocate on behalf children with disabilities who are facing disability-related issues at school, including special education issues, student discipline, and restraint and seclusion and supports MDLC staff to advocate for employment at or above minimum wage and appropriate supports and accommodations for adults who have disabilities across Minnesota. Previously, Maren was an attorney with Legal Aid’s Advocacy Project, doing legislative and administrative advocacy on a range of issues impacting Legal Aid’s clients, including disability and special education issues, and was a staff attorney and Skadden Fellow at MDLC. Before law school Maren taught sixth grade Social Studies in Texas.

5. Trivia in the Hangout Room

During this hour we’ll be running a casual trivia game in the hangout room. There’s no theme: just general knowledge! You can play on your own, or join together with other participants to make a team.

12:30-1:30 p.m. Lunch Break

Lunch is not provided by AuSM. You have the option to add a boxed lunch to your registration for $16-17. There are some restaurants within driving distance. You can also order Door Dash, Grub Hub, or another delivery service. You are also welcome to bring your own food.

During lunch, we will offer a variety of meet ups. If you want to find people with similar interests or backgrounds to eat lunch with, AuSM will share where you can find that group. These meet ups will include LGBTQ, parents, youth, and others.

1:30-2:30 p.m. Breakout Sessions 2

1. Using Anger for Good – Unlocking Mindful Awareness to Live Your Best Life presented by Aja Wolfe

Why do things piss you off so much? Are you often irritated or annoyed? Do your relationships end with hurt and rage? If even one of these statements is true, chances are your needs aren’t getting met. As Autistics, we’re taught to ignore minor frustrations. This has lasting impact on our ability to identify problems as they arise. The result? Anger. In this session, you’ll learn how to use anger to gain insight into your true needs. I’ll help walk you through how to reduce anger through mindfulness and strengthen of your self-advocacy skills so you can begin to start living your best life.

Aja Wolfe received a master’s degree in systemic psychology, with an emphasis in LGBTQ studies and a background in developmental education and sociology. Aja has consulted for and presented at several organizations, therapy centers, universities, and school districts around working with, supporting, and destigmatizing the neurominority. As an autistic adult herself, Aja specializes in the rapidly evolving field of neurodiversity and is also a highly respected advocate in the autistic community. When not presenting or consulting, Aja works with neurodivergent individuals and families to identify and employ their unique talents with confidence and pride.

2. Research on Autism, Driven by Autistic Researchers (RADAR) presented by Isabelle Morris and Jesica Sykes

A nonbinary individual stands at the front of the room giving a presentation and gesturing with their hands

This session will discuss a participatory research project called Research on Autism, Driven by Autistic Researchers (RADAR) and will be broken into three sections. The first section will cover an introduction to research, the process of creating RADAR, and involving autistic people in the research process. We will then present the results of RADAR’s research—a study of autistic adults’ experiences and perceptions of stimming. Finally, we invite the audience to participate in an extended discussion of the information presented, including asking for audience feedback/suggestions for improving autistic access as meaningful drivers of research.

Isabelle Morris is an autistic, multiply-disabled PhD student studying developmental psychology. She has been described by others as possessing “an uncanny canine knowledge and a dry sense of humor.” Receiving her diagnosis at age 19 changed her life for the better and focused her academic interests. Her current research looks at autistic experiences of stimming. Isabelle is passionate about creating opportunities for more autistic individuals to be involved with research and created RADAR, a participatory research project, to do just that. She lovingly refers to RADAR as “autistic social club where we happen to talk about research.”

Jesica Sykes is a late-diagnosed autistic – ADHD PhD student studying autistic and neurodivergent communication/language abilities with a minor in developmental psychology. Previously, Jes worked clinically as a speech language pathologist in multiple settings with autistic and neurodivergent individuals across the lifespan. Current research includes autistic perspectives about the communicative value of stimming, diversity and equity, and intersectionality within the community. Participatory research approaches and community engagement are areas of passion with the goal of ensuring our voices are heard and valued in the research for, by, and with the autistic and neurodivergent communities. They love animals, running, and disability advocacy.

3. The Right to Work: Navigating Discrimination (30 minute presentation – 1:30-2 p.m.) presented by Melanie Capra

After high school, Melanie had zero supports upon entering the workforce. IEP’s did not exist. Quiet rooms were nowhere to be found. She was left with the question “Do I share my disability or not?” By law, businesses cannot discriminate against workers with disabilities. However navigating the social structure of a workplace is overwhelming and there are still many instances of ableism in the workplace. In 2019, Melanie filed an EEOC complaint against her employer that drastically changed her personal and professional life. Join her to learn to recognize discrimination, what is and isn’t legal, learn about workplace supports, as well as what to do if you’ve been discriminated against.

Melanie Capra is a neurodivergent mother of two and lifelong Minnesotan. She grew up undiagnosed and found her diagnoses at age 32. She is a graduate of Bemidji State University, as well as a passionate advocate on supporting people with mental health concerns, advocating for disability rights, and promoting workplace supports.

5. Powerpoint Party in the Hangout Room

We’re bringing back the Powerpoint Party! Last year we had a great time, so we’re doing it again. This is a chance for anyone to give a short presentation on a topic of their choice (3-5 minutes). You can sign up to present when you register, or let us know the day of. Send us your slides and we’ll have them ready to go. You don’t have to present to attend: you can always come to listen and learn about people’s favorite interests.

3-4 p.m. Breakout Sessions 3

1. Breaking Down Our Internalized Ableism and Building Our Disability Pride presented by Milena Bates

Ableism is impossible to escape. It is intrinsic and also inextricable from other societal evils. Rooting out internalized ableism is continuous work. We are not terrible gardeners if we have weeds because weeding is continuous work. I will make distinctions between what is and what is not internalized ableism, ex: lamenting our decreased productivity vs. recognizing our objective limitations. Then we will talk about ways we can build our disability pride, through media, people we spend time with, intentional actions we can take, and walk away with a list of such tools. This will be an interactive session.

Milena Bates is a disability advocate on personal, family and community levels. Some of her top interests are intersectionality, assistive technology, Universal Design, and educating to expand understanding of accessibility. She is a cofounder of Minnesota Autistic Alliance, 2021/22 LEND fellow, class 40 of Partners in Policymaking, and has multiple different community organizing roles. She is very tired most of the time and some of her favorite things are Nutella, audiobooks, and yarn.

2. Autistic Socializing and Networking presented by Philip King-Lowe and Mitchell Schaps

This presentation will teach you about the importance of Autistic socializing and networking. It will go into details about how to organize social opportunities for Autistics. How to determine what structures are needed or not recommended. We will also be talking about Autistic social networking through social media platforms. We will mention many groups that have already been formed and how to find good Autistic social networks. This presentation will give you some important tools for how to navigate Autistic socializing and networking in a way that works for your individual needs.

Philip King-Lowe was late identified as Autistic in 2011 at the age of 43. Philip is very passionate about Autistic Adults. Philip is the owner, producer, and host of Today’s Autistic Moment: A Podcast for Autistic Adults by An Autistic Adult. Philip is also an independent contractor working with Eric Ringgenberg as an Educational Assistant.

Mitchell Schaps (He/Him) is the Board President of MNeurodivergent. He is also the original event organizer for MNeurodivergent Events in the Twin Cities Metro Area. For his Day Job, Mitchell works for Minnesota IT.

3. Listening Session: Guardianship Issues and Alternatives moderated by Eric Ringgenberg

When an autistic individual who has high support needs turns 18, it’s common for parents/caregivers to pursue guardianship as a method to support their young adult. However as many of these folks are getting older, they’re sharing their experiences with the problems of guardianship. In this session, we invite you to share your experiences, thoughts, and opinions about guardianship as well as alternatives. We’ll open with a short informational session about what guardianship is and current statistics, then open the floor for participants to share their concerns about guardianship and what they see as more positive alternatives.

AuSM will be inviting representatives from local disability and law organizations including Autism Advocacy and Law Center, Minnesota Disability Law Center, Lutheran Social Services, and Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services to listen to the discussion.

4. Screen Printing in the Hangout Room

Join Twin Cities Maker in the Hangout Room to screen print Autistic Community Summit slogans and designs on t-shirts! If you’re interested in participating, bring a blank t-shirt with you on the day of the Summit. We’ll provide all the other materials you need. You can create a neurodiversity pride piece of apparel that is unique to you.

5-7 p.m. AuSM Coffee Club at Dogwood Coffee, 825 Carleton Street, St. Paul, MN 55114

Coffee Club is a space where autistic and neurodiverse adults can connect with each other, foster friendships, and build community while enjoying a favorite beverage and/or snack. Adults are welcome to bring items that make them feel comfortable, can stay as long as they’d like, stim, and parallel play. Our partners at Dogwood have generously opened their space to us after the main events of the Summit so our participants can continue hanging out, chatting, and connecting after the programming for the day is over.

AuSM will provide a concierge staff person to help assist with questions, check-in, help with ordering, and manage any issues that arise during the club. AuSM will provide a number of resources, including a social narrative providing club details, parking info, menus, and more. Due to staffing, AuSM is unable to provide one-to-one support, however it is encouraged to bring your own PCA or support person if needed.

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