Currently, 1 in 110 children (1 in 70 boys) are identified as having an ASD, and according to AutismSpeaks, the prevalence of ASD is expected to increase between 10-17% annually. Massachusetts alone experienced a 1119% increase in the number of students ages 3-21 receiving special education services between 1999-2009 (U.S. Department of Education IDEA Data). The burden of responsibility for educating students with autism falls entirely on local education agencies and partners - those who provide services for students with ASD - whose budgets we know are already constrained (and usually highly criticized) - as well as families, who do not always have access to much-needed services or training. Despite the staggering increase, still only a handful of states require an endorsement for working with students with ASD.
The Focus on Autism Spectrum Disorders Speaker Series is the result of my initiative to call for training beyond teacher licensure for those who work with students with ASD. My work as a classroom teacher, a consultant and now a university professor has led me to believe that training for those who work with children with ASD must go beyond standard teacher licensure. This is an area of specialty that cannot be covered to the extent necessary in teacher licensure programs, given the appropriate focus on the general curriculum and the resulting (vast) information that must be included.
In recognition that the cost of training is sometimes an impediment to teachers, parents and other professionals, a second initiative is the commitment to provide low-cost professional development for anyone working/living with an individual with ASD. This supports the idea that training should be accessible and affordable if we are to adequately respond to the rising need for trained professionals in the area of ASD.
Lastly, a third initiative is to support our non-profit community partners, who support families and professionals outside of school settings. In my view this sets a good example for the pre- and in-service teachers that leave the Severe Disabilities program. As a result, for the series are charity events for a non-profit, with 100% of proceeds going to support the organization. Last year, a major effort to support the Asperger's Association of New England resulted in over 10k in fundraising dollars for the organization.
These events would not be possible without the kind assistance of the presenters - all experts who have made a significant contribution to the field. All of the presenters agree to donate their time in support of the cause and the identified organization. This year, experts will include:
- Dr. Matthew S. Goodwin, Director of Clinical Research at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) Media Lab; Associate Director of research at the Groden Center, an institute for autism spectrum disorders in Providence, RI. He is Co-Chair of the Autism Speaks-Innovative Technology for Autism Initiative, has an Adjunct Associate Research scientist appointment in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University, and is an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Rhode Island. Dr. Goodwin has over 15 years of research and clinical experience working with the full spectrum of children and adults with ASD, and extensive experience developing and evaluating innovative technologies for behavioral assessment, including telemetric physiological monitors, accelerometry sensors, and digital video/facial recognition systems.
- Nomi Kaim , an a young adult with Asperger Syndrome and a volunteer at the Asperger's Association of New England (AANE) in Watertown, MA. She was diagnosed in 2004 at the age of 20. Nomi has spoken about her experiences with AS at conferences, seminars, workshops, schools, and universities, to audiences ranging from children to professionals. Last summer (2010) she presented to teens in YouthCare's summer Transitions program. Her articles and interviews have appeared in the AANE Journal, Autism Spectrum News, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and National Public Radio. Nomi enjoys writing, copy editing, and exploring the brain (figuratively speaking).
- Dr. Karen Levine , Developmental Psychologist in private practice in Lexington, MA. An Instructor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Levine was co-founder and co-director of the Boston Children's Hospital Autism program and the Building Blocks Specialty Service Provider Program of Northeast ARC. She served as Clinical Director of the Autism Program at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts. She has written numerous articles and book chapters and is a frequent regional and national presenter to parent and professional groups on topics related especially to social emotional development of children with autism and other developmental disabilities. Dr. Levine is the co-author, with Noami Chedd, of the 2007 book Replays: Using Play to Enhance Emotional And Behavioral Development for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders. Dr. Levine is the recipient of the Federation for Children with Special Needs Founders Award 2010, the Boston Institute for the Development of Infants and Parents Award for Excellence in 2000, and the William's Syndrome National Education Award in 1994.
- Elsa Abele, MS CCC/SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist who recently retired as Clinical Assistant Professor at Boston University, Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Services. Her specialty is child language disorders with a specialty in pragmatic language. She worked with young adolescents in the Burlington, Massachusetts public school system for sixteen years. She currently consults and conducts workshops on topics concerning the inclusion of special needs students in regular classroom settings with special emphasis on children with pragmatic language deficits that interfere with successful social communication. She leads training for professionals and parents in pragmatic group instruction and is a renowned speaker and consultant. Ms. Abele is a member of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, and its special interest division, the Division of Language Learning and Education. She is a member of the Greater Boston Reading Council of the International Reading Association and a member of the Asperger's Association of New England.
- Dr. Laurence Hirshberg, Director of The NeuroDevelopment Center in Providence, RI. Dr. Hirshberg is a licensed clinical psychologist. He serves on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior of the Brown University Medical School as Clinical Assistant Professor. Dr. Hirshberg has specialized in neurodevelopmental disorders for over 15 years and consults and trains educators and clinicians across New England. Dr. Hirshberg is conducting an investigation of quantitative EEG markers of autistic spectrum disorders in collaboration with scientists from the New York University Brain Research Center, among other areas of research. He has published and presented in many areas of clinical psychology and child development.
Thank you in advance to all that make these events a success, in particular the participating reserachers and experts. This is a wonderful example of the power of community and collaboration.