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The Annual Parent Autism Conference: 2020 Recap

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This year's Annual Parent Autism Conference went virtual and global, hosting 850 participants from 20 different countries and 36 U.S. states.
By: Rosemary Poppe

April is Autism Awareness month, and as such, it is host to Endicott’s Annual Parent Autism Conference. For nine consecutive years, Endicott College’s Institute for Applied Behavioral Science has organized this free event, aimed at sharing academic and professional expertise with parents and families of children with autism. Mary Jane Weiss, the Executive Director of Programs in ABA and Autism at Endicott, notes that the conference will “discuss topics that will make a difference to parents and their children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and will address parental planning and preparation for teenage years and adulthood”.

Although the conference is typically held on Endicott’s Beverly campus—limiting numbers to 250 guests—with the spread of COVID-19, the conference went both virtual and global! On Saturday, April 18, an astounding 850 participants joined the conference, representing 20 different countries worldwide and 36 U.S. states. The conference offered two sessions to accommodate the high number of guests, with a total of 11 workshops, five of which qualified for Type II CEUs (Continuation credits) for the more than 300 BCBA professionals in attendance. The workshops were delivered by Endicott’s doctoral students in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and the Keynote presentation was delivered by Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D. on the topic of Improving Outcomes with Adolescents and Young Adults with Autism: Evidence-based Intervention Targeting the Right Skills.  

P Gerhardt InsetDr. Gerhardt is an adjunct faculty member at Endicott, an advisor to our doctoral ABA students, and has over 35 of experience in the field of ABA. He takes a pragmatic stance when managing transitions in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and places a greater focus on developing life skills associated with success in real-life situations, rather than the more traditional classroom focus. He explains, “transition is a lifelong event” and his methodologies support this sentiment. When developing an Individual Education Plan (IEP), he suggests that it should be “less about what to teach, than it is about why to teach that skill.” Furthermore, the value of a skill should be weighed against its “social validity, which should be central to what we are talking about, not peripheral.”

Gerhardt’s approach supports the lifelong development and self-efficacy of individuals with ASD, allowing them to become less dependent on outside support, whether from family members or professionals. He advises that language can become a barrier as well, for instance, using the terminology ‘Activities of Daily Living (ADL)’ could also be referred to as chores, because “the use of the skill should define it, not just the nature of the task.” His keynote conveyed that skills should be valued against their social significance, appropriateness, and the importance of its effects. Greater focus should be placed on the skills that will help an individual with ASD live effectively, independently, and safely, whether as a child, adolescent, or an adult.

The conferences workshops also focused on managing transitions, and topics included: Understanding and managing challenging behavior, Allie Rader; Building communication skills, Karen Rose C’12; and Rebekah Lee M’19; Transitioning into adolescent/Adult Issues*, Shanna Bahry, Natalie Driscoll M’16, and Jessica Cauchi; Issues in feeding/eating associated with autism*, Lisa Tereshko, and Kristin Bowman; How to structure down time: Using activity schedules, Melissa Theodore M’16; Increasing opportunities to teach social skills, Jessica Piazza; Toilet Training: Effective Strategies*, Gabrielle Morgan and Melissa Theodore M’16; Hands on workshop on teaching a skill, Colleen Suzio; Creating goals that matter, Kimberly Marshall, Jessica Rohrer, and Jessica Piazza; Addressing sleep issues*, Anna Linnehan M’17; AAC*, Lisa Tereshko and Kristin Bowman.  *These sessions qualified for Type II CEUs.

The breadth of programming offered by our doctoral ABA students is demonstrative of the robust curriculum offered by Endicott’s ABA program. Degree programs include an undergraduate minor, a master’s degree with concentrations in autism, organizational behavior management, child clinical, and mental health, and the doctoral degree. Endicott’s ABA department is a leader in online delivery and courses are offered in synchronous and asynchronous online formats. Our expert faculty provide hands-on attention and deliver rigorous courses. We offer small class sizes and pricing is highly competitive. The success of this year’s Annual Parent Autism Conference is a display of the ABA team’s commitment to their professional field and improving the lives of those with ASD. Explore our ABA programs.

Countries represented by attendees included: Arabic Emirates, Australia, Canada, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Indonesia, Georgia, Pakistan, Russia, Barbados, Botswana, England, Hong Kong, South Korea, Lebanon, Romania, South Africa, Trinidad, U.S.

U.S. states represented: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Penn., Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington