Detailed Conference Schedule

*=included in the bonus virtual content. For more information about the virtual content, click here.
†=speaker is a MN LEND fellow

Wednesday April 27

7-9 p.m. Keynote: Why Are You Yelling At Me? Presented by Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards

Explore the divide between autistic advocates and parents of autistic children. In the conversation about autism, parents often feel attacked for their lack of understanding, and autistic adults who offer insight and guidance often are met with hostility and rejection. Professionals face their own challenges in supporting autistic people. Limited by information that often excludes autistic perspectives, professionals may inadvertently contribute to this divide. When Ashburn and Edwards first met, they were getting their information from different sources and had opposing understandings of autism. They’ll share their stories of where they started, how they’ve messed up, and what they’ve learned from engaging in productive conflict with people of different perspectives. They invite you to build communities where autistic adults, parents, and professionals work together to make the world a better place for autistic people and those who love them. Let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Jules Edwards is an Ojibwe disability justice advocate, and co-author of an upcoming book. As an autistic parent of autistic children, she understands the joys and challenges of living as an autistic person, and works to improve the safety and quality of life for all autistic people, highlighting the experiences of disabled people of color. Her culture shapes her worldview and decision-making, and she is committed to making the community a better place for generations to come.

Meghan Ashburn (she/her) is an educational consultant, former elementary school teacher, and author. She has co-authored a book with Jules Edwards about autistic and parent advocacy. She’s passionate about helping educators and families learn how to better support neurodivergent children. Her website, Not an Autism Mom, is a springboard to neurodiversity-affirming resources, focusing on accessibility, communication, and inclusion. A neurodivergent parent of four children, two of whom are autistic, Meghan spends her spare time attempting to change the world. She currently sits on her school district’s SEAC (Special Education Advisory Board), and is an enthusiastic member of this year’s Virginia Partners in Policymaking class.

9-9:30 p.m. Meghan Ashburn and Jules Edwards Book Signing

Thursday April 28

8:30-10:30 a.m. Keynote: Supporting Queer Autistic Individuals: Applying The Lessons of Universal Design to Gender and Sexuality

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, approximately 5% of Americans are LGBTQ+. In contrast, a meta-analysis in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that 15 percent of autistic individuals identify as LGBTQ+, while many other studies found higher numbers. As we learn more about this significant overlap, it is imperative that educators, caregivers, family members, and service providers understand what this dual identity means and how they can support queer, autistic community members. This panel will explore gender and sexuality as they overlap with autism, provide guidance on how to provide safer spaces for exploration and self-expression, and illustrate how we can use lessons learned in the world of autism to better support our LGBTQ+ community members.

This panel will be moderated by Zephyr James, Jillian Nelson, and Sara Lahti. Panel members include Sonya Emerick, Wendell Britt Jr., Jeff Markham, and Trinity Pixie.

Wendell Britt Jr. is a writer, podcaster, educator and reforming personal development junkie. Wendell is on a mission to merge the best lessons of life from Ken Wilbers Integral theory, Parts Integration and Roleplaying games to help people tackle some of the worlds hardest problems through imaginative play. His current projects include Mastering the Game of Allyship and the Worldbuilding with Wendell podcast. He’s currently the curriculum head for the non-profit Allies For Black Americans

Sonya 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. Sonya 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.

Jeff Markham is a nonbinary, polyamorous autistic who grew up primarily in the South. They were diagnosed autistic at the age of 8, and are trying to express their gender and sexual identities instead of hiding them. They have used universal design in web accessibility and user experience design in their career for over 20 years. They use tools and techniques to stretch their perspectives to consider other types of people.

Trinity Pixie is an autistic transgender woman and activist with a background studying cognitive science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which heavily informs her activism. She is a former member of the advisory council of the non-profit Secular Woman, has co-written with Zinnia Jones of Gender Analysis, and contributed to LGBTI+ employee education at the Mayo Clinic. Trinity has appeared at conferences such as Secular Women Work and Skepticon, where she speaks and hosts workshops on transgender and disability issues. She is an avid gamer and manages an online community for trans feminine gamers with over 500 members.

10:30 a.m.-11 a.m.: Break

11 a.m.-12 p.m.: Breakout Session 1

1. Increasing Independence Through Functional Routines presented by Jill Pring, M.Ed and Katie Marciniak, M.A., CCC-SLP

Functional routines are an important life skill for everyone! This hands-on session will focus on how to develop and implement functional routines within the school setting as well as how to monitor student progress and adjust routines for increased levels of independence.

Jill Pring, M.Ed. is a licensed Special Education Teacher and Educational ASD Consultant who works for Northern Lights Special Education Cooperative in Esko, MN. Jill has over 20 years of experience working with students from early childhood through age 21. Jill also is a co-director for Camp Discovery, a residential summer camp for youth and adults with ASD run through the Autism Society of Minnesota.

Katie Marciniak M.A. CCC-SLP has worked as a Speech Language Pathologist in educational settings for 12 years and going.  More recently she began working as a Co-Director at Camp Discovery. As the parent of a neurodivergent child, her experiences navigating educational and community based services as both an educator and a parent have provided unique experiences and perspectives.

2. Be Your Own Boss: 5 Easy Ways to Direct Your Own Services presented by Jennifer Drganc and Lana Lambrecht, RN*

Do you ever feel like your Consumer Directed Community Supports (CDCS) or Consumer Support Grant (CSG) are too hard or overwhelming? This interactive session will teach you how to use a Support Planner and Financial Management Company to get the most out of services. Get tools to manage your own services and be your own boss. Learn ways to manage your staff, write your community support plan and manage your budget. Find out the right questions to ask to be successful in self-direction. Come prepared to have fun and learn about how to self-direct your own services using CDCS or CSG.

Born and raised in Minnesota, Jen Drganc is a Relationship Director for GT Independence, a national Financial Management Service provider. She oversees the Consumer Directed Community Supports and PCA Choice programs. In her 20+ year career in disability services, Jen has been a fierce advocate for people with disabilities to self-direct their services. She participates in various boards and committees to advance the rights of people with disabilities. 

Lana Lambrecht, RN, is a certified Support Planner who specializes in helping families with complex medical needs. Her passion for children has fueled her newest project, the Spark of Possibilities sensory gym and respite center in Elk River, MN. Lana is a parent of two children who utilize state planned services. As a DHS certified Support Planner, Lana works with families to find resources that help increase the independence of their loved ones.

3. Creating Financial Security for a Loved One with a Disability presented by Ivailo Grigorov

Many parents state they worry about how their child with disabilities will be cared for when they are no longer alive. Interested in learning about the planning process and how you can have peace of mind? This session will provide a general overview of special needs planning. Topics covered include an overview of SSI & SSDI, Medicaid & Waivers, ABLE accounts, special needs trusts, and other important considerations to help family members better understand how planning for a child with special needs is different both legally & financially.

Ivailo Grigorov is a Financial Advisor and special needs parent to Lucca, who is 7 years old and has a diagnosis of Prader-Willi Syndrome. After 15 years as a Store Director at Target, Lucca inspired Ivailo to change career paths and pursue special needs planning. Ivailo realized that families like his can benefit from a comprehensive plan that can guide them through the years and can ultimately maximize a child’s overall quality of life. Ivailo’s team primarily works with families who have a loved one with disabilities that will require some support not only now but in the distant future.

4. Adolescents and Young Adults with ASD: Finding Valued Social Roles presented by Joe Timmons and Dustin Suggs

All of us seek to belong to our communities and to be of value to others. Roles, such as spouse, friend, neighbor, employee, student, citizen, sibling, son, or daughter are critical parts of who we are. Some adolescents and young adults struggle to find or keep roles that others see as valuable; this can lead to isolation and loss of self-esteem. In this session, we will examine strengths-based approaches that lead to Valued Social Roles (VLR) in the lives of young people. We will also describe how VLRs develop through Person Centered Practices and Social Emotional Learning.

Joe Timmons has worked with individuals with disabilities in educational, vocational, and health care settings for over thirty-seven years. For the last 5 years he served as school social worker and as an educational assistant at Lionsgate Academy, a charter school for students with ASD. His work has included 15 years as a special education researcher at UMN and 15 plus years as an instructor and counselor at several schools and non-profit organizations in the Twin Cities.

Dustin Suggs is a Special Education teacher and Case Manager at Lionsgate Academy focused on preparing students with ASD for their transition to their post-academic transition into adulthood. He is also one of the co-directors of AuSM’s Camp Hand-In-Hand, a series of week long residential summer camp experiences helping individuals on the Autism spectrum explore recreational opportunities in the camp setting. Dustin has been supporting individuals in the Autism community since 2001 and plans on continuing his work with this population for the foreseeable future.

12 -1 p.m. Lunch Break

1-2 p.m. Breakout Session 2

1. Beyond Behaviorism: A New Lens for Assessing Behavior presented by Connie Persike, MS, CCC/SLP

Many experts are working tirelessly to shift the behavioral paradigm away from the traditional behavioral approach and towards what current relational and neuroscience research has taught us. When we know better, we do better! Let’s take that information and use it to redesign tools we use frequently in schools today – functional behavioral assessments and positive behavioral intervention plans. If you are struggling with these processes, or if they don’t align with your current philosophy and belief system then this workshop is for you! Participants will get a glimpse into how to make these common processes more trauma sensitive and aligned with current research.

Connie Persike, M.S., CCC/SLP, is a highly experienced Speech Language Pathologist and Educational Consultant. She has 20+ years of experience in educational settings and holds a certificate in instructional coaching, positive education, and applied educational neuroscience. She served as a member of the multi- state work group to help develop the Common Core Essential Elements for English Language Arts. Connie is a published writer for Autism Parenting Magazine and writes for Exceptional Needs Today. She created an innovative process to assess student behavior, which deviates from the traditional behaviorism approach and aligns with current relational and neuroscience while maintaining a trauma-sensitive and neurodiversity approach. Connie works from the guiding mission that Connection + Collaboration = Endless Possibilities.

2. Sensory Regulation Tools from Common Household Objects presented by Elizabeth Duffy and Michelle Pettit

Learn a basic understanding of sensory processing and regulation. Then, explore a variety of stations with sensory regulation tools and fidgets that are easy to make and use. Take home one tool that you made! Instructions and supplies provided for all tools. 

Elizabeth Duffy is an Autistic and otherwise Neurodivergent Occupational Therapist with 14 years of working with people across the lifespan. She is also a parent to an Autistic and otherwise Neurodivergent child. She is passionate about promoting authentic, autonomous engagement in her clients’ chosen lives. She is president of a non-profit, Minnesota Neurodivergent Education Advocacy and Therapy Services (MnNEAT) and partner in Roots and Wings Therapeutic Services.

Michelle Pettit has been a pediatric occupational therapist for 5 years, working in outpatient and community-based settings. Most recently, she is a partner in Roots and Wings Therapeutic Services, providing services to clients and families across the lifespan in their natural and chosen environments. She is also a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher, with additional training in trauma-informed yoga. She is passionate about providing services that affirm each person’s own identity, strengths, and goals and contributing to a world where all individuals are able to live a life true to their own self.

3. Accessing Minnesota’s Systems of Supports presented by Nicole Berning, BCBA; Kim Hicks; Erin Farrell, BCBA; Abbie Wells-Herzog; and Wendy Berghost, PHN

This interactive presentation will teach you about  the services and supports available in Minnesota. Participants will learn about tools and strategies for navigating the complex system of supports and advocating for the right supports at the right time, including the Charting the Lifecourse tool and framework. You’ll learn how this tool can be used to help identify needs, and build supports based a young person’s strengths, interests, resources, and needs, so children, youth and young adults have access to the right supports at the right time. 

Nicole Berning is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and works with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) as the Autism Clinical Lead for the Early Intensive Developmental and Behavioral Intervention (EIDBI) benefit. Nicole currently provides consultation, training and technical assistance to early intervention providers across the state on EIDBI policies and procedures. She also provides training to caregivers of children with ASD and related conditions on the services and supports available and how to access them.

Kim Hicks is the Autism Policy Lead with the MN Department of Human Services. She has over 20 years’ experience through various rolls as a direct support professional, special education teacher, advocate, and policy lead. Kim is also the parent of five multiracial children with various needs including autism. She brings her varied lenses to her work. She is passionate about increasing access to services for all families.

Erin Farrell is the Autism Spectrum Disorders Specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education. Erin has been working with individuals with autism spectrum disorders for over 20 years in a variety of roles including in education, early intervention, and higher education. Erin is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a licensed teacher in Autism Spectrum Disorders, and a parent of a child with ASD. In addition to her role at the Minnesota Department of Education, she is an Adjunct professor and Doctoral Student at the University of St. Thomas.

Abbie Wells-Herzog is the Autism Specialist for Vocational Rehabilitation Services, a division of DEED. Abbie has over 35 years of experience supporting people who have disabilities. She is an avid fan of person-centered practices. Abbie is the parent of two neurodiverse adult daughters.

Wendy Berghost joined the MN Dept. of Health’s Children and Youth with Special Health Needs program as a Public Health Nurse (PHN) Advisor Senior/Coordinated Care Systems Specialist November 2016. She has a varied background working in the public, medical, and mental health sectors. She was previously employed at a mental health non-profit organization as Director of Integrated Healthcare Services. Prior to that Wendy developed and coordinated the West Suburban Interagency Early Intervention Central Referral and Planning System for children birth through three with special needs and their families. Wendy is the parent of a neuro-diverse adult.

4. Cultural Capitalism: How Work Defines Worth presented by Ashley Oolman and Alli Strong-Martin*

There are many dominant cultural norms in the U.S. that stop us from removing the barriers that uphold bias and maintain stigma around disability. Ableism ingrained in our culture reinforces untrue assumptions that disabled people are unable to contribute to society. Because of capitalist and cultural values of individualism and productivity which dominate the workplace, in many ways, we rank people on their ability to uphold unrealistic social and performance norms. These patterns maintain a socioeconomic system that has never really worked for everyone.

This session will lead us through a critical discussion intended to change perceptions of worth/value that we uphold in our roles as disability professionals in both subtle and overt ways. Together we will explore how cultural capitalism has impacted the way we understand human value, and in doing so will help us confront harmful social norms. Join us as we work through tangible ways we can challenge ableist and capitalist thought, and counteract problematic perceptions of disability through our work in the fields of disability employment services, disability advocacy and disability studies.

Alli Strong-Martin (she/her), Disability Inclusion Consultant at Lifeworks, develops offerings that educate and train employers, disability organizations, and community members on disability rights and inclusion in the workplace and in the community at-large. Alli holds a M.A. in Human Rights and a B.A. in Nonprofit Leadership. She is dedicated to educating herself and others about the intersectionality of disability rights issues, while working towards a more equitable future in which every person is able to enjoy their right to participate fully and authentically in their communities.

Ashley Oolman was born and raised in Minnesota, and is a wife and mom of 2. As a Black neurodivergent woman, leveraging differences to strengthen human connection was a means to both survival and healing. To her work with Allied Folk, she brings lived experience, multiple degrees, and an unwavering belief that we all have the power to change the future. Together with organizations and community partners, she co-creates spaces for exploration and re-learning, designed to advance equity, reconciliation, and ultimately, change.  

2-2:30 p.m.: Break

2:30-3:30 p.m. Breakout Session 3

1. Autism and Aging: The Research, Autistic Concerns, and Best Practice for Support presented by Dr. Elizabeth Scheel-Keita and Dr. Bridget Conlon-Mayfield, PhD*

As autism has become more widely understood, many adults are being diagnosed, some late in life. However, there is a large gap in our knowledge about how autism interacts with the aging processes. This presentation seeks to outline how autism manifests in adult populations, present autistic concerns about aging, and highlight the challenges faced by aging autistics across the spectrum in various settings. Using research and the voices of elder autistics, we will address their concerns and how those who work with elder populations can be inclusive and address their unique needs.

Dr. Elizabeth Scheel-Keita is an Autistic sociologist/criminologist with research in disability rights/autistic culture who teaches courses such as Social Deviance (the study of people and behavior that do not fit the social norm of society), Criminology, and Sociology of Health & Illness. Previous presentations include Autism & Aging, Autism & Anxiety, Alternatives to Masking, Disability Rights, Embodied Strategies of Resistance to Social Control, and Disability in the Criminal Justice System. She is also the mother to two Autistic people. Her special interests are movies, tv shows, reading and connecting with other Autistics online, and building her community.

Dr. Conlon Mayfield is originally from Albuquerque, NM and obtained her PhD from the University of Iowa. Her areas of interest include sociology of mental health and social psychology. In addition to studying mental health, she is an advocate and a consumer. She lives with her husband, daughter, and cat in St. Cloud, MN.

2. Addressing Barriers to Support and Service Access for Autistic Children and Families presented by Jessica Simacek, Anne Floyd, Muna Khalif, and Nicole Berning (BCBA)

Autistic children, youth, and their families often face barriers to accessing services and support. This can result in delays, wait times, and missed opportunities for evaluation and support services. Families who live in rural areas often face greater difficulty in accessing services. This presentation will feature presenters from various state agencies who will highlight both the known barriers to support access and promising practices and programs available to support autistic children, youth, and families.

Jessica Simacek serves as the Director of the ICI-led TeleOutreach Center and the TeleOureach Research Core at the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain. Dr. Simacek is the Principal Investigator on research projects related to the use of innovative distance-learning technologies to improve access to interventions for children with developmental disabilities or complex communication needs and for their families. She serves as a faculty mentor to fellows in the MN Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (MN-LEND) program and her work has appeared widely in peer-reviewed journals focusing on intervention research. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology, Special Education, from the University of Minnesota, and is a former MN-LEND fellow.

Anne Floyd is a doctoral student in Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota.

Muna Khalif is the Project Coordinator for the TeleOutreach Center at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota, an Educational Specialist, and an IDI Qualified Administrator.

Nicole Berning is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and works with the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) as the Autism Clinical Lead for the Early Intensive Developmental and Behavioral Intervention (EIDBI) benefit. Nicole has a background in providing early intensive behavioral intervention services to children with ASD and related conditions. Nicole currently provides consultation, training and technical assistance to early intervention providers across the state on EIDBI policies and procedures. She also manages the MN Autism Resource Portal website (, communications and social media accounts. She also provides training to caregivers of children with ASD and related conditions on the services and supports available and how to access them.

3. Do No Harm: Recognizing the Subtle Racism of Autism Assessments and Their Effects on Multicultural Families presented by Rufo Jiru and Maren Christenson Hofer*

Do autism assessments discriminate against multicultural communities? Join us for a discussion with parents and advocates who have experienced the subtle racism of autism assessments. Learn how to recognize when assessments are not serving our multicultural communities well, what the consequences can be, and join us for a discussion on how to address these issues. You’ll hear from advocates and parents in multicultural communities about their experiences with autism assessments, as well as discuss strategies to ensure that multicultural communities have full access to and are able to benefit from assessments.

Rufo Jiru is the founder of Anole Sisters, the first women’s organization created by and for women in the Oromo community in the Twin Cities area. She has served as an advocate for families of children with disabilities and was recognized by the Minnesota Department of Human Resources as outstanding refugee for her contributions to serving the Oromo disability community.

Maren Christenson Hofer is the mother of a delightful autistic child, and has served as an advocate for families of children with disabilities for many years. Her work has focused on families of autistic children from mutlicultural communities through a non-profit organization, the Multicultural Autism Action Network (MAAN). She also serves as the policy liaison for the MN Autism Council, and on the board of directors for The Arc of Minnesota.

4. Guardianship: What You Need to Know presented by Rebecca Wanous and Christy DePasquale

When an individual reaches the age of 18, life is full of transitions and changes! Many families are surprised and overwhelmed by the guardianship process: What is it? Why do we need it? How do we navigate a complex legal system? Come learn all about guardianship, including the process for establishing a guardianship, why guardianship is necessary for many families, and how to tailor a guardianship to fit your family’s needs. We will also address how you can qualify for free legal representation with an attorney in our firm!

Rebecca Wanous joined Autism Advocacy & Law Center in 2019 as a Staff Attorney. She practices primarily in the areas of guardianship, family law, and estate planning. Prior to working at the Autism Advocacy & Law Center, she practiced family law for a law firm based in Delano, Minnesota. Rebecca graduated from Hamline University School of Law in 2012. She has a certification in Family Mediation Skills. While in law school, she was a Child Advocacy Clinical Student Director and served as a Guardian Ad Litem.

Christy DePasquale joined the Autism Advocacy & Law Center as a Staff Attorney in 2020. She is a graduate of Gonzaga University School of Law. During law school, Christy was a law clerk in the Health & Justice Clinic and assisted individuals with disabilities in the areas of estate planning and family law.

7-9 p.m. Keynote: Unapologetic Authenticity presented by Ashley Oolman

As society shifts its focus toward more conversations about disability and neurodivergence, how do folks with intersecting identities navigate the mainstream’s new demand for authenticity? This session will take time to explore how factors like risk, harm, power, and privilege play a major part in who gets to be “real” and how it feels in real time. Come to understand how good intentions to increase inclusion are more complicated than they may seem on the surface. Together we will uncover how to navigate these moments specifically as a neurodivergent person, and how to center the experiences of folks most impacted as allies.

Ashley Oolman was born and raised in Minnesota, and is a wife and mom of 2. As a Black neurodivergent woman, leveraging differences to strengthen human connection was a means to both survival and healing. To her work with Allied Folk, she brings lived experience, multiple degrees, and an unwavering belief that we all have the power to change the future. Together with organizations and community partners, she co-creates spaces for exploration and re-learning, designed to advance equity, reconciliation, and ultimately, change.   

Friday April 29

8:30-10:30 a.m. Keynote: It Starts with You! You are the Foundation for Their Regulation presented by Leah Kuypers, MA, ED, OTR/L

As adult facilitators (teachers, caregivers, therapists) supporting others with regulation differences, we often overlook a critical component… our role in this endeavor. Caring for ourselves so we can care for and coregulate with others is not a nice to have but a need to have. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how our nervous system is reacting to the stress around us. Understanding our feelings and regulating them with healthy tools and strategies to support our wellbeing is at the core of this work and directly benefits learners. Learn firsthand how to integrate The Zones of Regulation  framework into your mindset, building your own interoceptive awareness of how you experience your Zones and your unique toolbox of regulation strategies. With this experiential knowledge, teaching and supporting others with The Zones of Regulation will become second nature.

Leah Kuypers earned a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a Graduate Certificate in Autism and a Master’s in Education from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN.  She has practiced as an OT and specialist in school and clinical settings, specializing in regulation and social-emotional learning. Through this work, she was inspired to create The Zones of Regulation (Think Social Publishing, 2011) which has been enthusiastically received by educators, therapists and parents around the world.  In addition to developing additional learning tools to supplement The Zones of Regulation curriculum, she owns a small business, Kuypers Consulting, Inc., based out of Minneapolis, MN.  She enjoys providing training and consultations to parents, schools, and professionals by offering workshops on regulation and the Zones framework to groups locally, around the United States and internationally. To date over 270,000 copies of The Zones of Regulation book have been sold and the framework has been implemented in districts around the world to support students’ social emotional learning.  Please visit for additional information, a current schedule of trainings, and to find support in implementing The Zones of Regulation.

10:30 a.m.-11 a.m.: Leah Kuypers Book Signing

11 a.m.-12 p.m.: Breakout Session 1

1. Teaching Intersectional Self-Advocacy to Students with Autism and Other Social Identities presented by Lynn Stansberry-Brusnahan, PhD and Emily Bedford*

This presentation introduces an “intersectional self-advocacy” framework that positions educators to teach students to self-advocate for all their social identities. For education to be a means of social transformation that is equitable for all, it is important for educators to understand and infuse students’ multiple social identities into educational planning and preparation for life. Self-advocacy skills are needed for life so students can get wants, needs, and rights met. To teach intersectional self-advocacy, educators must recognize their own and their students’ multiple social identities and adopt culturally sustaining practices.

Lynn Stansberry Brusnahan is a Professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. She has chaired the Department of Special Education and coordinated the autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities programs. Lynn is coauthor of Do Watch Listen Say: Social and Communication Intervention for Autism Spectrum Disorder. She was the 2012 Autism Society of America Professional of the Year. Dr. Stansberry Brusnahan has a Ph.D. from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Urban Education. Lynn serves on the Council for Exceptional Children’s (CEC) Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (DADD) board. Lynn is the parent of an adult with autism.

Emily Bedford is a licensed special education teacher, adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas and a private autism consultant.

2. What You Need to Know to Make Mental Health Therapy Work for You presented by Barb Luskin, PhD

Many autistic individuals struggle with co-occuring mental health concerns. Therapy can be a helpful tool in managing those concerns. This session will focus on the unique strengths and needs autistic individuals bring to therapy, including how therapy can help and strategies for choosing a therapist. You’ll also learn how therapy can be adjusted for those who aren’t typically considered a good fit for therapy (non-speaking individuals or those with difficulty identifying and speaking on their emotions). We’ll give you tools to create a positive therapeutic relationship that meets your needs.

Dr. Barb Luskin is a licensed psychologist who has worked closely with children and adults with ASD for more than 30 years in professional and home settings. She specializes in providing both assessments and counseling to individuals with ASD and those who support them. Dr. Luskin serves the local autism community in multiple capacities including professional consultation, autism trainings, certification instruction, and individual work with clients.

3. Supporting Non-Speaking Children in School and Beyond presented by Elizabeth Duffy and Molly Hoffard

This session will be a discussion geared towards caregivers and support personnel focused on acceptance and inclusion of non-speaking people. Topics will include: 1. Exploring attitudes and biases of non speaking support personnel and caregivers 2. Discussing societal fears of non speaking people and some tools to accept and promote inclusion of non speaking people in the lives they choose 3. Sharing ideas of how to promote inclusion and participation of non speaking students in schools including tips on modifying IEPs to promote academic goals. 4. Give strategies for common concerns for caregivers of non speaking people including toileting and behaviors at home.

Elizabeth Duffy is an Autistic and otherwise Neurodivergent Occupational Therapist with 14 years of working with people across the lifespan. She is also a parent to an Autistic and otherwise Neurodivergent child. She is passionate about promoting authentic, autonomous engagement in her clients’ chosen lives. She is president of a non-profit, Minnesota Neurodivergent Education Advocacy and Therapy Services (MnNEAT) and partner in Roots and Wings Therapeutic Services.

Molly Fraser Hoffard is a Partners in Policymaking graduate and mother of 2 children. She became an advocate for neurodiverse and disabled people after the birth of her non speaking autistic son. She serves on several boards related to disability and special education and strives to advocate for self determination. She works with several agencies and businesses to create events that not only meet the needs of everyone but to also make them safe and welcoming for neurodiverse people and their families. She is an advocate working against restraint and seclusion in schools.

4. Spoon Theory: What Individuals with Disabilities Want You To Understand presented by Jillian Nelson, Jonathan Murray, and Jennifer Reiter

Many people with disabilities find that their caregivers and providers don’t truly understand the challenges of constantly managing day to day life with limited resources. To help others make more sense of why some days seem so different from others, disability advocates have pioneered spoon theory. This interactive presentation will introduce the concept of spoon theory and explain how daily life and unexpected events can impact disability function and self regulation skills. Participants can expect to leave the session with a new understanding of the lived experience of autism and other disabilities and a new framework for supporting autistic people.

Jillian Nelson is an Autistic Adult and the Community Resource and Policy Advocate for the Autism Society of Minnesota. Jillian has a degree in human services and a diverse background in disability service work including DSP, special education, housing, employment supports, support groups and more. Jillian routinely connects with the community through the information and resource hotline and is ingrained in the disability public policy field as a registered lobbyist, co-chair of the consortium for citizens with disabilities anti-discrimination committee and has been appointed by the Governor’s office to the Council on Developmental Disabilities and State Rehabilitation council, as well as serving on many workgroups and committees

Jonathan Murray has lived experience with how poorly the current support systems fit and envisions a world where flexible, responsive supports are personalized, accessible, simple, economical, and automatic. Jonathan is a complicated autistic person living in Roseville, MN. Jonathan is interested in everything (including people), sees the world as tapestry of connections, dabbles in everything, spends a lot of time asking (often inconvenient) questions, and translating ideas so they resonate with others. Jonathan is a community leader who serves on the board at Twin Cities Maker and an advocate serving on the MN Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Committees.

Jennifer LeGrand Reiter has worked in the arts community for over 20 years. A MN Native and graduate of the College of St. Benedict, she has worked with Ordway, Guthrie theatre and Walker Art Center. The diagnosis of her daughter with ASD shifted her focus to creating more opportunities for people with disabilities via arts and education.

12 -1 p.m. Lunch Break
12:-12:20 p.m.: Lunch Presentation

Autism Prevalence in MN and U.S., presented by Dr. Jennifer Hall-Lande and Dr. Amy Esler

1-2 p.m. Breakout Session 2

1. Words Matter: How Our Words Can Impact Students and Their Behavior presented by Erin Dilley-Jones, MSW, LISW

How do you think about behavior? How do you talk about behavior? How do you speak to students who are in the midst of a meltdown or other difficulties? How we think and the words we use during these times have a direct impact on how we treat students in crisis. During this presentation, we will talk and learn about making a paradigm shift in our thinking about behaviors that challenge our students from seeing behaviors as a disruption to the day to seeing them as opportunities to offer help and support to someone in need.

Erin Dilley-Jones has been working in the ASD educational field for over 20 years in multiple roles from school social worker to mental health practitioner, and finally to ASD and Behavior Consultant. She has an MSW degree and has an LISW along with a school social work license, an Autism Certificate from Hamline University, and an MS in psychology with a concentration in Applied Behavior Analysis. Erin lives with her family in Austin, MN.

2. Selecting a School and Transitioning to College: How Educators and Families Can Support Autistic Young Adults presented by Morgan Winegarden

The transition to college is a major milestone for many autistic adults, and along with this transition comes several opportunities and challenges. Many new or prospective college students have questions about how what support they can expect from their college, and how they can set themselves up for success once they arrive. Parents, families and teachers might also be curious about how they can support their student in this process, while also respecting their student’s independence. In this presentation, we will cover topics including considerations when choosing a college, disability accommodations in college, and how parents, teachers and other professionals can support their students as they make this transition.

Morgan Winegarden (she/her) is a social work intern at the Autism Society of Minnesota, as well as an Access Consultant at the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at the University of Minnesota. A primary function of Morgan’s role at the DRC is working with college students with disabilities to identify reasonable accommodations at the University level. Prior to her work in higher education, Morgan was a Special Education Teacher working with elementary-aged students with autism and other disabilities. Morgan has a Bachelor of Science of Teaching Special Education from Winona State University, and is currently working on her Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health degrees at the University of Minnesota. In her free time, Morgan enjoys reading, spending time with her wife and dog, hiking outdoors, and cooking delicious food.

3. Supporting Self Advocates presented by Milena Bates, Tiffany Tully, and Jules Edwards

The greater autism community in Minnesota relies heavily on peer support and social capital in order to access information and services. This creates a barrier for people who have a disability that impacts communication and socialization, as autism does. Supporting self advocacy promotes health, safety, and inclusion of autistic people in our community. Self advocacy is when a person communicates their needs and wants for their own life. Many autistic people need support in order to be able to effectively self-advocate, and those support needs vary by person. Some need communication support, some need executive functioning support, some need emotional support. This session will explore how we can effectively support self advocates and encourage self determination.

MNAA founders are neurodivergent community members who come from different backgrounds and want to make Minnesota a better place for all autistic people.

 Milena Bates† is a current LEND Fellow and community advocate working on creating accessibility, equity, and support resources.

Jules Edwards is a 2020-21 LEND fellow and Ojibwe autistic disability justice advocate.

Tiffany Tully is a graduate of the University of Kansas working in disability self advocacy and early childhood disability support and education.

4. Begin Again: Mindfulness Practices to Cultivate Resilience and Release Stress While Caregiving in a Pandemic presented by Adam Langenfeld, MD, PhD, FAAP and Jennifer LeGrand Reiter

Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) report experiencing high levels of stress. Over the past several years, the COVID-19 pandemic has compounded these stress levels due to frequent transitions in learning, decreased resource availability, and concerns over the health and safety of their children. In this session, presenters discuss stressors related to the pandemic, ways to foster resilience among children with ASD and their families, and mindfulness techniques to reduce stress and bolster resilience. Participants are invited to try mindfulness techniques during the session. Participants will gain a greater understanding of mindfulness and how it can be integrated into the daily lives of parents and caregivers to promote resilience and well-being.

Jennifer LeGrand Reiter has worked in the arts community for over 20 years. A Minnesota native and graduate of College of St. Benedict, she has worked with Ordway, Guthrie Theater, and Walker Art Center. The diagnosis of her daughter with ASD shifted her focus to creating opportunities for inclusion for people with disabilities via arts and education. She is working with local schools and arts organizations to create Sensory Friendly Arts Programming. Jennifer is currently working to deepen leadership skills and community connections to build opportunities for youth and adults with developmental disabilities in arts organizations.

Adam Langenfeld, MD, PhD, FAAP is a third-year fellow in Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (DBP) at the University of Minnesota. He obtained his medical degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he also completed a PhD in Chemistry. He completed his Pediatric Residency at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician, Adam is interested in exploring interventions that promote the health and well-being of neurodiverse children and their families in different settings.

2-2:30 p.m.: Break

2:30-3:30 p.m. Breakout Session 3

1. Trauma Informed Educare presented by Tamera Pulver*

Trauma is held in the body. We all need to be empowered by learning about the brain and how we can use our body to regulate our physiological state, especially as we face an ongoing pandemic. This presentation is a distillation of the findings from a wide range of trauma researchers and will provide practical, accessible solutions for home and school. You’ll learn what trauma is and how it effects the brain, the role your autonomic nervous system plays, and the importance of educators and caregivers in supporting individuals with autism in managing trauma. Participants will walk away with research based interventions to address anxiety: in their clients and in themselves!

Tamera Pulver studied Child Psychology at the U of M studying with Dr Alan Sroufe. She took a long break to work, marry and raise her daughter – eventually working as a para in her school. She loved this work, so returned to school. Working as a HS and Middle School teacher, she completed a Specialist Degree in Educational Leadership. Tammy works with charter schools as a Director of Special Ed. The pandemic prompted her to dive deep in traumatic studies with the Trauma Research Foundation and Bessel van der Kolk. 

2. AuSM Advocacy: A Discussion of Priorities and Opportunities presented by Jean Bender

Join the AuSM Advocacy Committee to discuss  an overview of AuSM’s 2022 legislative agenda with a  brief status update of each bill. You’ll have a chance to ask questions, share your feedback on areas you would like to see AuSM advocate, and learn strategies to help you be an effective advocate with AuSM and on issues that are a priority for you.

Jean Bender is co-chair of the AuSM Advocacy Committee and the parent of an autistic adult with multiple disabilities. She is a long-time disability advocate who is passionate about community inclusion and person-centered services and supports. Her expertise has been informed by navigating the service system for her son and 15+ years as a service coordinator for preschool children with disabilities and their families.

3. Autism and Sleep: Help is Here presented by Sarah Moe*

The link between sleep issues and autism is strong. In this session we will learn how autism and sleep interact to impact adults and children on the spectrum as well as their caregivers. We’ll cover the anatomy and physiology of sleep and breathing, common sleep issues that impact autistic children and adults, do’s and don’ts for quality sleep, plus signs, symptoms, and treatments of common sleep disorders.

Sarah Moe started her career in Sleep Medicine in 2006 and is the Founder and CEO of Sleep Health Specialists, which provides sleep education to businesses and corporations. She was also an Adjunct Professor in the Polysomnography (Sleep) Program at Minneapolis College. 

Sarah sat on the Board of Directors for the Minnesota Sleep Society and the Educational Products Committee for the American Association of Sleep Technologists. For her role in Sleep Education in our workforce, Sarah has been named to the Minnesota Business Magazine’s “35 Under 35” 2016, “Most Likely to Succeed- Healthcare Division” finalist in 2017, “Women Who Lead” 2018, the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal’s “Women In Business” 2019, and the TeamWomen’s “WaveMaker Award- Uncharted Territory” finalist, 2019. You can also catch her on her regular WCCO news segment “Health Watch”, where she discusses various Sleep related topics.”

4. Liberated Life: Creating Music Experiences that Support Emotional Regulation presented by Lyndie Walker

A variety of strategies involving music can be developed in music therapy sessions to help assist with emotional regulation. This presentation will help parents, caregivers, and educators understand the different ways music affects our bodies and how to effectively incorporate music experiences into everyday activities and routines that can cause our bodies to become dysregulated. Participants will leave with adaptable resources created by board certified music therapists that work with clients of all ages and ability levels and will include opportunities for experiential learning. These resources are for non-musicians and musicians alike, and no music training or experience is required for participation.

Virtual Sessions

The following sessions are included in the virtual content. Also included are the sessions marked in the general schedule with a *.

1. What Do I Tell My Very Young Sibling Child? presented by Harriet Redman, MS, Ed

Parents often wonder how autism might impact the other children (siblings) in the family, especially those ages 3-5. What do you tell a young child? When? What strategies help in parenting both a child with a disability and their neurotypical sibling(s)? This workshop will address concerns of parents of very young children and provide them insights about the sibling’s roles, emotions, needs, and behaviors. Each family attending will get a Sibsack designed to help parents communicate and develop strategies to enhance relationships within their family.

Harriet Redman, M.S. Ed. is Executive Director and founder of WisconSibs, a non-profit organization dedicated to children and adults who have siblings with disabilities. She has been a classroom teacher, family program developer, a marketing director for a Fortune 500 company, and a nonprofit organization manager. She has an adult son with developmental disabilities whose sister is her mother’s inspiration and most honest critic. Redman has received the Exceptional Parent magazine’s Maxwell J. Schleifer Distinguished Service Award, the Kasidhe Olson Distinguished Parent Award, and the Richard Blakely Award from the WI Governor’s Committee for People with Disabilities. In 2020, Redman received the Insight on Business Women of Influence-Difference Maker Award.

2. Let’s Be Honest: Autistics Can and Do Have Sex presented by Stacy Stefaniak Luther, PsyD, LPC

The idea of Autistics being sexual is difficult for many parents, professionals, and other neurotypicals. Sexual education is lacking, society is embarrassed to discuss sex and often infantilizes Autistics, and sexual relationships and sexual health are complicated. This presentation is designed for Autistics, parents, teachers, and service providers and includes information on what Autistics need to know about healthy sex: from consent to hygiene to masturbation and orgasm with inclusive information for LGBTQ+ individuals. Sexual language is used during this presentation, and it is best for adults and those transitioning into adulthood. 

Stacy M. Stefaniak Luther, PsyD., LPC, is a counselor at the Behavioral Health Clinic. She specializes in assessment, diagnosis, and counseling for Autistics of all ages. She has over 15 years of experience working with Autistics in addition to working with families in a variety of settings. She enjoys working with individuals of all ages and with a variety of co-occurring conditions, intellectual abilities, varied sensory needs, and individuals who are non-verbal or have verbal communication differences. She is known for providing individualized care that emphasizes social-emotional development without changing the individual to fit society’s expectations but rather focusing on strengths and the individual’s own desires for enhancing quality of life.

3. Regulating Together- Autism, Trauma, and the Family presented by Jen Bluske, OTR & Jenna Mao, LPC, BC-DMT

Daily life can sometimes feel too much, too fast, or not enough- leading to trauma responses and lack of a “felt sense of safety” for autistic children and their families. When any person in the family experiences a disruption of safety and regulation it can impact that felt sense of safety for the entire family unit in a dynamic way. But there is hope! Trusted family relationships can also be key in creating safety and regulation. You will walk away with strategies and understanding for how your family can learn to regulate and thrive together!

Jen Bluske is an OT and owner at Children’s Therapy Network in Madison, WI. She has training in sensory-based trauma work, autism and post-adoptive needs. While Jen does individual work, she also embraces the reality that no child exists outside of the relationship with their caregiver, and thus she finds the most therapeutic power in treating in the context of the parent/caregiver-child unit.

Jenna Mao, LPC BC-DMT combines her knowledge of the body and movement into her mental health role at Children’s Therapy Network. Jenna works with clients including those with autism, trauma histories, anxiety and emotional regulation difficulties. Jenna believes that non-verbal communication can have a profound impact on the therapeutic relationship.

4. Behavior Impedes Learning? I’ve Checked Yes, Now What! presented by Katie Berg, MA Ed

Participants will deepen their understanding of the question “Does the student’s behavior impede their learning or that of others?” We will explore the information gained or needed from a functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and how to discuss matching interventions. Participants will be exposed to strategies for discussion and methods to move forward in supporting students with challenging behavior output.

Katie Berg has been supporting students for more than 20 years. In the private sector, public education, and statewide through an IDEA Discretionary Grant her experiences include providing one on one therapy, classroom teaching, administration, technical assistance, coaching, along with district and statewide training. Katie has experience working with unique neurodiverse learners focusing on the Social Emotional Learning skills that help students and educators solve challenging behaviors.

5. How to Hire, Train, and Retain Respite Providers presented by Val Madsen, M.S., CTRS

Family caregivers are often responsible to find their own respite care providers and don’t know where to start. Learn about places to look for a respite worker, the interview process, and how to train a respite provider so that they can successfully work with the care recipient. We will also discuss tips for keeping your providers. You will receive some worksheets to help you with this process.

Val Madsen, M.S., CTRS is the Training and Development Specialist at Respite Care Association of Wisconsin. She has 20 years of experience working in community respite care programs with both children and adults. During her tenure, she grew programs to serve

more clients in a high-quality setting, while also developing a focus on primary caregiver needs. Val’s love for training others grew over her career, as did her passion for helping others problem solve and figure out ways to make challenging situations work. While she supports respite providers, staff, and primary caregivers, she always prioritizes the needs of the care recipient.

6. Prioritizing Core Communication Across Grade Levels presented by Sarah Singleton & Holly Smith

This session will provide information related to Lakeland School’s Core Vocabulary curriculum, designed for implementation in grades four through 12. This curriculum was designed to support the language development of both our verbal and nonverbal learners by emphasizing the teaching and use of core vocabulary. The curriculum incorporates application of core words to reading, writing, music and social contexts such as game play, and incorporates techniques such as aided language input and use of visual supports. Example lessons and methods of differentiation will be shared, as well as examples of extension activities appropriate for younger Learners.

Sarah Singleton is a Speech-Language Pathologist and AAC Specialist at Walworth County CDEB-Lakeland School in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Over her 18 year career, Sarah has continually supported complex communicators across a variety of age-levels. Sarah has been an integral component in transforming Lakeland School’s approach to Speech-Language programming. Through her work with students, families, and staff members she has improved curriculum, implementation, and the home-school connection!

Holly Smith has been an educator for 16 years. She currently holds the position of Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Walworth County CDEB-Lakeland School in Elkhorn, Wisconsin. Holly has worked with building staff to embed an emphasis on core vocabulary into all content areas. Before fulfilling a role in educational leadership, Holly taught Special Education in the area of Low Vision- Blindness. In addition, she has taught courses as an adjunct professor for UW-Platteville and the Wisconsin Braille Refresher Course supporting teacher preparedness programs. Holly prioritizes presumed competence in all learners!

7. Autistic Identity presented by Denielle E. Everson

A lack of understanding of the diversity among Autistics has caused delays that affect our lives. This session will include a discussion about how we can help reach other minority groups within the Autistic community, and learn to build our community as Autistics and advocate for the community.

Denielle Everson is a disabled Autistic wife and mother of 2 Autistic boys. She has worked in Autistic and Disabled communities since her early teens and worked as a live-in caregiver for many years as well in medical settings. Denielle now does volunteer work in Autistic, LGTBQIA+ and advocacy nonprofits.