Our Speakers

Keynote Speaker

Temple Grandin, Ph.D.

Professional Background:

Dr. Grandin has inspired people around the world as a champion for individuals with autism and their families.

Her accomplishments as a speaker, author and advocate earned her a place among TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2010, and her life story was the subject of the acclaimed 2010 HBO biopic, “Temple Grandin,” winner of seven Emmy awards and a Golden Globe.

Temple Grandin is world-famous for using insights gained from her autism to lead dramatic improvements in the livestock industry. A professor at Colorado State University for more than 20 years, Dr. Grandin is a celebrated speaker who lectures internationally on autism and livestock handling.

Tali Berman

Professional Background:

Tali Berman is an autism specialist, author and developmental play expert and has worked with hundreds of children from over 30 different countries since 1997. She has authored the book “Play to Grow! Over 200 games to help your special child develop fundamental social skills” which is now sold in 4 languages and was voted as a top resource by the Special Needs Book Review.  Tali is also the founder of the “Autism Empowerment Telesummit” and has contributed regularly to some of the most well-read autism publications, including the Generation Rescue blog and The Autism File magazine. Tali currently lives with her husband and three children in Israel. You can learn more about Tali’s work at www.taliberman.com.

Session Description:

Autism and Self-Esteem: 10 Critical Strategies 

In my work in the autism community as an autism specialist for the last twenty years, I have seen that there is no goal more important than helping your child cultivate self-esteem and an overall positive sense of self. This is important not only because it will help your child to experience more confidence, happiness and fulfillment in his life (what is more important than that?!), but also because it helps your child be in a much more open, receptive and inspired position to learn the specific skills that may be challenging for him.
There are 10 powerful strategies I will share that parents can implement right away and embark on a journey that will be deeply meaningful for parent and child.  Having a positive sense of self can be challenging for all children, but especially for children on the spectrum.  This is a topic that is often neglected but must become a priority to enhance the quality of life in our children.

Ryan Blair
Professional Background:

In March 2013, Ryan Blair released the paperback version of his #1 New York Times Best Seller, Nothing To Lose, Everything To GainHow I Went From Gang Member To Multimillionaire Entrepreneur. Uncensored and raw in his account of growing up in the face of adversity, Blair effectively imparts lessons learned from obstacles he faced and provides a road map for entrepreneurial success. Blair is no ordinary businessman: he’s a master of personal reinvention.  Ryan has also had to adapt as a single parent of his son with autism, and will share his deeply personal journey to being the best parent he can be.

Session Description:

A Single Father’s Perspective on Raising a Child with Autism

There is a high divorce rate associated with autism, and having experienced what it was like not to have a father myself, I am even more determined to be a better father to my son than the example that was given to me. Not only am I a single father of a child that was diagnosed with autism when he was two years old, but I am the CEO of a multi-national company. Balancing the needs of my family with work has been a unique challenge, one that has required me to learn special skills to adapt and continue to be the best parent I possibly can. I know there are many others in the community that face much harder circumstances than I have, but I’d like to share my insights with you, in hopes that what I’ve learned will help more single parents and families endure.

Frank Campagna

Professional Background:

Frank Campagna aka “Autism Daddy” is the father to a 13 year old son with classic autism. He has been riding the special needs roller-coaster for over 10 years now and has been writing about his experiences and has become a social media sensation with his blog and Facebook page. His claim to fame is giving people a realistic, non sugar coated look at the world inside an autism household; the good & the bad… the pee & the poop.  Frank has also worked at Sesame Street for the past 22 years, and worked closely on their recent autism initiative, Sesame Street & Autism:  See Amazing in All Children

Session Description:

“Things No One Ever Told Me After My Son Was Diagnosed With Autism”

This presentation aims to show, in a humorous way, how to be a great special needs parent without losing all of your former self in the process.  Autism Daddy will talk about all the really important things that somehow fall through the cracks.  Topic points include “You’re Allowed To Be Mad”, “Autism Includes A Few Perks”, “You’re Going to Get Advice From Everyone”, “Your Marriage Can Survive”.

Ray Cepeda

Professional Background:

Ray Cepeda, BCaBA, CBAA is the Founder and Director of ABAskills, LLC, and the Founder and Co-Director of 121 Learning Works, both are groups that provide behavioral consultation to families and school districts in NY, NJ and Long Island. He is a former clinic supervisor for the Lovaas Institute and has 25 years of experience supervising home-based programs for learners with autism, working in applied behavior analysis schools, consulting with school-based programs, integrating and mainstreaming learners into typical learning environments, training parents, and speaking on topics regarding the use of behavior analytic teaching methodologies and program individualization for children with autism.

Session Description:

Why Does Your Child Do That?: It’s More About You Than Your Child 

We all have been to presentations to find out about the “Functions of Behavior” and learned “why” our children may be engaging in challenging behavior or desirable behavior. BUT…what about YOU? These same principles should be applied to parents, grandparents, caregivers, teachers, teaching assistants and all that are involved in the education and treatment of our learners with autism. Think about it…your child is “wonderful” with you and then “terrible” with another family member or he is “compliant” with one teacher and “non-complaint” with a related service provider. Why?  Through the use of real life examples, videos and discussion we will explore this question and OUR behavior.

We must realize that our behavior has a direct impact on our children’s behavior and therefore we must be diligent to understand “why” we do what we do.

John N. Gaitanis, MD

Professional Background:

Dr. Gaitanis, a graduate of Brown Medical School, completed his neurology training at Children’s Hospital Boston. He went on to finish an epilepsy fellowship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center before returning to Children’s Hospital Boston to join their epilepsy staff. While there, he co-founded the Comprehensive Brain Malformation Program, helping bridge clinical and basic science knowledge of these conditions. In 2004, Dr. Gaitanis returned to Brown Medical School and Hasbro Children’s Hospital where he served as the director of pediatric epilepsy. He aided in the development of ketogenic diet and epilepsy surgery programs at Brown, providing comprehensive epilepsy care for children in Rhode Island. He now serves as the Director of Child Neurology at Tufts Medical Center/Floating Hospital for Children. Apart from his clinical duties, Dr. Gaitanis serves as the Chairperson of the Matthew Siravo Memorial Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving epilepsy advocacy and education. Dr. Gaitanis’ research is aimed at improving the sensitivity of EEG through digital signal processing. He has also published original articles and book chapters on status epilepticus, cortical malformations, and epilepsy in infancy and childhood.

Session Description:

Cannabis Use in Patients with Epilepsy and Autism

Dr. Gaitanis will be discussing the latest studies on treating children with cannabis to improve health and behaviors directly related to epilepsy and autism.

Raun K. Kaufman

Professional Background:

Raun K. Kaufman is the Director of Global Education and former CEO of the Autism Treatment Center of America®.  In his work with families, children, and professionals from around the world, he brings a distinctive qualification to the realm of autism treatment—his own personal history.  As a child, Mr. Kaufman was diagnosed with severe autism and recommended for lifelong institutionalization.  Instead, his parents developed The Son-Rise Program®, which enabled their son to completely recover from his autism.  Now an international speaker, writer, teacher, and graduate of the Ivy League’s Brown University with a degree in Biomedical Ethics, Mr. Kaufman bears no traces of his former condition (and is the subject of a best-selling book and NBC television movie).  He has written articles featured in journals such as The Autism File and Good Autism Practice and has been interviewed by media such as National Public Radio, BBC Television, Fox News Channel, The London Telegraph, and People Magazine. He was awarded “Best Presenter” at the AutismOne National Conference.

Session Description:

Autism Revolution: Breakthrough Strategies for Parents

Raun K. Kaufman, author of the new book, Autism Breakthrough, provides concrete, outside-the-box strategies you can implement now for your child’s immediate gain.  With humor and inspiration, Raun recounts his own story of recovery and outline some crucial yet often-overlooked aspects of autism and its treatment. Using the step-by-step structure of his book (endorsed by NAA President Wendy Fournier: “I learned more about my daughter from reading this book than I have through all the others I’ve read over the 11 years since her diagnosis.”), Raun details some innovative techniques you can use today to help your child: move beyond stimming (without you stopping or discouraging your child’s behavior), learn new skills (without you having to push or pressure), and, most especially, to form meaningful, caring relationships with others.

Ruth Ann Luna, Ph.D.

Professional Background:

Dr. Luna currently serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology & Immunology of Baylor College of Medicine and as Director of Medical Metagenomics within the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center at Texas Children’s Hospital. She directs the next-generation sequencing efforts of the Texas Children’s Microbiome Center and focuses on multi-omic profiling in a variety of body sites and disease populations. She is a member of the Institutional Review Board of Baylor College of Medicine and is active in clinical research. As principal investigator of two ongoing studies, Dr. Luna is exploring the gastrointestinal and neurobehavioral aspects of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with specific emphases on the gut microbiome and metabolome, as well as the impact of antibiotic treatment on the core symptoms of ASD. She is also the mother of an 8 year old son with severe autism.

Session Description:

The Gut-Brain Axis in Autism: Linking Gastrointestinal Symptoms with Behavior 

Gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are now widely recognized as a clinical symptom of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and research into the microbiome-gut-brain axis is beginning to reveal the interconnectivity between GI pain and potential behavioral challenges. Emerging data on the gut microbiome in ASD has also suggested that altered host-microbe interactions may contribute to disease symptoms. Here, we will discuss the history of the relationship between the microbiome and ASD, including more recent publications that have identified distinct microbiome-neuroimmune signatures in ASD as well as demonstrated the potential efficacy of fecal microbiota transplantation. A case study will be presented to illustrate the benefit of longitudinal sampling of a single patient in parallel with collection of clinical metadata (behavioral, gastrointestinal, and dietary).
This lecture will explain the potential role of the gut-brain axis in ASD and describe how changes in the microbiome correlate with changes in behavior.

Julie Matthews

Professional Background:

Julie Matthews is a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in autism spectrum disorders since 2002. She provides dietary guidance backed by scientific research and applied clinical experience. Her award winning book, Nourishing Hope for Autism, has helped people around the world to make food and nutrition choices that aid the health, learning, and behavior of those with autism, ADHD, and other developmental delays. She presents at leading autism conferences in the US and abroad, sits on the faculty at MAPS, and is the Nutrition Editor of the Autism File magazine. She is on the advisory boards of the US Autism & Asperger Association and Autism Nutrition Research Center. In 2014, Julie launched the BioIndividual Nutrition Institute to provide advanced nutrition science education to healthcare professionals globally. Julie has a private nutrition practice in San Francisco, California, and supports families and clinicians from around the world. Visit http://NourishingHope.com.

Session Description:

Food and Nutrition for Autism

Nourishing your child’s body is essential. Making strategic dietary changes can help relieve symptoms while improving overall health, learning, and behavior. In this session, Julie Matthews will explain the biochemistry and nutrient deficiencies underlying autism and related disorders. And while food is medicine, there is no “one-size fits all” diet. You will learn the scientific rationale behind special diets and supplementation for autism and gain understanding of the most effective dietary approaches including: GFCF, SCD, GAPS, Body Ecology, Feingold, low oxalate, and more. Julie will explain her BioIndividual Nutrition approach and how anyone can get started, make even further progress, and help support picky eaters too.

Lori McIlwain, NAA Co-Founder

Professional Background:

Lori McIlwain has a 17-year-old son with Autism and is Co-founder of the National Autism Association (NAA). In 2007, Lori began advocating for federal resources that would reduce and eliminate emotional trauma, injuries and deaths associated with autism-related wandering/elopement. She has also advocated for federal laws that would eliminate dangerous restraint and seclusion practices in public and private schools. Through NAA, she has launched multiple safety initiatives and direct-assistance programs.

Session Description:

Big Red Safety Bootcamp


Managing wandering tendencies in children and adults with autism on a daily basis can be frightening and overwhelming. This presentation will cover three practical areas of wandering/bolting prevention while providing new insights, data and the latest information on legislative efforts.

This presentation is intended for parents, caregivers, educators, organization leaders, and clinicians.

Dan Rossignol, MD, FAAFP

Professional Background:

Dr. Dan Rossignol, MD FAAFP is a board certified family physician. He received his Doctorate of Medicine at the Medical College of Virginia and completed his residency in family medicine at the University of Virginia.  Coming from an academic background, Dr. Rossignol searched the medical literature looking for a solution after both of his children were diagnosed with autism.  He has made it his mission to research and publish in autism. Since 2006, he has 55 papers, abstracts, editorials, and book chapters (including those in press) concerning autism and related conditions. Dr. Rossignol has a special interest in autism spectrum disorders, PANS/PANDAS, cerebral palsy, and related neurological and developmental disorders as well as medically complex children and adults. Dr. Rossignol is a Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians (FAAFP) and a Fellow of the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (FMAPS). Dr. Rossignol sees patients in both his Florida and California offices.

Session Description:

Potentially Reversible Causes of Autism

Autistic behaviors may have a medical cause or contributors.  For example, seizure-like activity may contribute to hyperactivity, aggressive behaviors, speech delay and sleep problems.  Gastrointestinal problems may lead to aggressive or self-injurious behaviors.  Dr. Rossignol will discuss how treatment of common co-occuring medical conditions can lead to behavioral improvements and overall better health for individuals with autism.

Christopher Ulmer

Professional Background:

Mr. Chris is a former special education teacher in Jacksonville, FL.  After spending two years with the same students, he observed a disconnect between his pupils and society.  The intelligence and humor displayed by his students was not typically appreciated by those without special needs experience. For this reason, Mr. Chris started Special Books by Special Kids, a multi-media initiative that is now spearheading a worldwide acceptance movement.

Session Description:

Engaging Neurodiverse Individuals: The Power of Acceptance and Positivity 

We each have a profound power within us, that when harnessed correctly, can enable us to form meaningful relationships with anyone, neurodiverse or otherwise. The fear that comes from not knowing how to access this power, has detrimental impacts. We’ve all seen the effects first hand through bullying and the isolation of the neurodiverse community from the rest of society. In order to create a world of universal acceptance, we have to get past the fear of the unknown and our pre-disposition with labels. I have made it my life’s mission to normalize the diversity of the human condition by showcasing how a little understanding, positivity, and acceptance can make a better world for all.

Marilyn Weber

Professional Background:

Marilyn Weber is a Transition Specialist and Advocate with over 15 years of experience working with youth between the ages of 14 and 22 . Ms. Weber brings decades of experience working in schools and community agencies as a job developer, job coach, work study coordinator, school-to-careers coordinator, transition coordinator, parent and professional trainer, and parent consultant. She received her advocacy training through The Federation of Children with Special Needs (FCSN), Wrightslaw and OSEP/COPAA’s SEAT program with a practicum at FCSN. Beginning in 2014, Marilyn provided community based supports for individuals through Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children and Adolescents (NESCA). She is a member of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children Advisory Committee and Transition Coordinator Subcommittee and is the proud mother of an adult with autism.

Session Description:

Transition Planning: Venturing Outside of the Classroom into Adulthood
Transition planning begins at the age of 14 giving teams up to 8 years of planning for outside the classroom.  In this workshop, you will learn effective strategies for transitioning from the classroom to adulthood, when to do what, and how to engage community agencies and stakeholders in the process.  Ms. Weber will provide a transition blueprint for what to do, when to do it, and how to do it!