This past week, the HDS Foundation attended the 19th International Conference on Autism, Intellectual Disabilities and Developmental Disabilities, for Research Informed Practice, organized by the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities and held in Clearwater, FL. The Conference went off with a bang with several pre-conference trainings followed by an inspiring opening ceremony featuring keynote speaker Andy Gardiner, Senior Vice President of External Affairs and Community Relations, former president of the Apopka Chamber of Commerce and Former member of the Florida State Senate. Mr. Gardiner spoke of the legislative advocacy  facing individuals with Developmental Disabilities in the state of Florida. He also gave notable advice on becoming involved in initiatives in our own communities helping those with developmental disabilities and insight as a parent to inspire other parents, providers, educators, and community members to do more to have an affect on policy. Poster Presentations by various professors and faculty on different topics of research and studies were displayed followed by the Presidents Reception and a Student Social. 

HDS Foundation staff Carla Otiniano, Program Manager, and Meagan Bouscher, Board Member, attended relative, educational sessions on many subjects including the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), Pre- Employment Transition Services, Improvement of Public School Autism Programs, and several Model Transition Programs taking place at different Universities.  There was even a session on “Netflix and Chilling”, and how to navigate the dating world for students in college with ASD, by our friend, Doctoral Candidate, Tara Rowe of the University of North Florida’s Project THRIVE. Foundation staff were also fortunate enough to meet James Williams of the University of Wisconsin, who gave an enlightening session on Navigating the Transition Process through the perspective of someone with Autism.

The final general session presentation was closed by motivational speaker, advocate, and author Robert Pio Hajjar who spoke on how love and hope can transform an individual to bring out the best in themselves and contribute toward a stronger society. His message “I Can, You Can” helps others “to realize ability in disability and to empower champions of inclusion and change” and was an eye-opening ending to an amazing conference.

A Special Thanks to the CEC-DADD and their Conference Committee and the various presenting Professors, Providers and Faculty for putting on such a successful event, and to the many people we were able to meet and network with, to share knowledge and information to improve policy, educational programs and work opportunities for young individuals with autism, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Be sure to come back and check out some of the presentations and available resources from the conference as they become available, on our resources page!