7th Annual Southeast Adult Autism Symposium
2023 Speaker Information
Read below to find out more information about the speakers and presentations we will feature at this event. Speakers are listed alphabetically by last name.
Kevin Fox, Claire Kraft, and Nathan Zimmerman
Independent Living with Autism: A Panel
Description: Living independently is an important milestone for adults, yet it is one that comes with extra challenges for people with autism. Come to hear a panel of three autistic adults share their stories of living independently and their backgrounds and experiences and ask us questions about those experiences. Topics covered will include employment, paying bills, and utilizing proper support resources.
1) Panelists will prove people can live independently with autism and show how they function day-to-day.
2) Attendees will learn what steps adults need to take to successfully live independently.
3) Attendees will get to ask questions and learn about independent living and the different resources and technologies they may need to use to live independently from successful autistic adults.
Kevin is a content specialist with FlexJobs from Chattanooga, TN. He holds a Master of Library Science degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Kevin is a self-advocate who helps run weekly support group meetings at the Chattanooga Autism Center. He also has lived independently in an apartment in Chattanooga since 2020 with help from support resources including the ECF CHOICES program. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys writing fiction and poems, playing piano, singing, and reading.
Nathan is the program director of the GCA Centre for Adult Autism from Chattanooga, TN. Nathan has lived independently in a house in Chattanooga since 2006 and has helped other adults with autism achieve their independence and driving goals. In his spare time, Nathan enjoys helping others and working on cars and computers.
Claire is an Associate Data Scientist at BCBST. Claire has lived independently for two years now. She rented for a year, and just bought a house. She owns a cat named Garfield. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, running, and solving the Rubik’s cube.
Observations & "Opinions" about Relationships from an Autistic Adult
Description: Relationships are often very challenging for Autistic individuals but not impossible. I will be sharing valuable details of being married to my neurotypical life partner Susan of 12 years, and what it is like to raise children also on the spectrum. Autistic people CAN be in relationships and with the right understanding and support groups around them they can enjoy the benefits of having a loving and healthy relationship while navigating Spectrum Issues carefully as a couple. LOVE and togetherness IS possible. Don’t be limited by negative concerns, but grow with hope in healthy communicating relationships. You can do it!
1) TEAM acronym understanding. Using this valuable 4 point system will help each autistic person to learn to know these 4 basic relationship essentials to have a successful relationship. The TEAM acronym system was developed by Troy Krombholz as an Autistic Adult married to a non-autistic adult to teach diverse couples relationship success techniques including healthy TOUCH.
2) How you view the people around you: This segment of the talk is vital in a successful and healthy relationship. Learning to understand the difference between a caregiver, friend, and life partner. Learning and knowing these differences will grow and strengthen your relationships to a larger and healthier success. As an adult with autism, I have had to learn over the years how to draw healthy lines so that my relationships can flourish instead of being stuck in a rut.
3) I will be briefly talking about my endeavors as an Autistic Musician in a developing music career, and fielding questions.
Speaker Biography: Troy Krombholz is a published author who focuses his content on visual storytelling. He also writes original music as a composer, performs as a concert pianist, and is an award-winning nature photographer. Troy is also a speaker and activist for Nature Conservation and Wildlife Protection. He also lectures on Autism Awareness and strives to see Educational Progress and Advancement for Adults and Children who live and struggle with Autism. Troy Krombholz is married to his lovely wife Susan, and they have 2 wonderful sons, Tobijah and Micaiah. They reside in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee where he and his family spend most of their free time hiking, picnicking, camping and enjoying the captivating beauty of the mountains. On most of his evenings as the day closes, Troy can be found sitting at his piano expressing some his feelings through music.
Martin L. Pierce and John G. Huisman
Practical Legal Answers from A Lawyer & A Father
Description: Martin Pierce is a Special Needs Attorney and the father of son on the Autism Spectrum. Join hi and his law partner as they share practical information and answer your questions about Powers of Attorney, Guardianships, Conservatorships, Special Needs Trusts, ABLE Accounts, Wills and Trusts, and many other issues for families!
1) Dispelling myths of autism, especially in girls
2) Building an inclusive arts community
3) Creating accommodations that grow with the child
Speaker Biography: Martin Pierce, J.D. & John Huisman, J.D. are licensed attorneys in Tennessee and Georgia with a combined 60 years' experience helping the Disability community and Special Needs families. Mr. Pierce is also a Certified Estate Planning Specialist.
Dr. Amanda Platner, PsyD, ABPP and Laura S. Coleman, BA Psychology
Mental Health & ASD in the Workplace
Description: This presentation will review the current state of mental health at work and how it impacts individuals on the autism spectrum. The presenters will discuss how individuals can identify and articulate the way mental health challenges may impact them both at work and at home, and will review concrete steps individuals can take to seek support for these challenges. Finally, considerations regarding disclosure of mental health and disability status in the workplace will be outlined, closing with a first-hand account of how one of our presenters has navigated her own mental health journey while working to advance her career.
1) Name at least 3 key statistics related to work and mental health
2) Name at least 5 signs of mental health challenges that can impact work-life
3) Identify 3 key considerations for self-disclosure and advocacy at work, 4) Identify 2-3 supports that can be asked for at work.
Amanda Platner, PsyD, ABPP is the Director of Adult Programs at the Emory Autism Center, as well as Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Emory University School of Medicine. Dr. Platner joined the EAC in the Summer of 2020. Prior to joining the EAC, Dr. Platner was a staff psychologist in the Behavioral Health Department at Franciscan Children's in Brighton, MA. She completed her undergraduate education at Brandeis University and her graduate training at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She completed two years of postdoctoral fellowship in autism spectrum disorder and related neurodevelopmental disorders at the Marcus Autism Center/Emory University and at the MGH Lurie Center/Harvard University. As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Platner specializes in working with individuals and families impacted by neurodevelopmental disorders and is particularly interested in intervention, assessment, as well as working with individuals who have comorbid medical and/or mental health conditions.
Laura S. Coleman, B.A. Psychology is currently a Clinical Research Coordinator for the SPARK Study with the Marcus Autism Center and Emory University’s School of Medicine. She is a graduate of Emory University and was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum during her time there as an undergraduate student. She has also done graduate work in the Masters of Education program at Georgia State University, hoping to resume her studies this upcoming fall and complete her degree the following spring. Beginning in 2016, Laura has been employed at the Marcus Autism Center in both clinical roles and in research, and she has years of experience working with the pediatric autistic population. Additionally, Laura has been an active autistic advocate for many years and has served in an advisory capacity for several autism research grants with Emory faculty since 2018. Her personal background has involved coping with intergenerational trauma, overcoming her own severe mental health challenges since her symptoms first emerged in early adolescence and surviving the traumatic loss of her mother, whom she lost to suicide in 2014.
Melvin Rodgers, D.Min, BCC, ACPE
Autism and Aging: A Spiritual Care Imperative
Description: This presentation is by an autistic adult and a spiritual care professional. Therefore, my focus is on healing rather than cure. In so doing, offering a model of care and nurture is critical. I will also offer an understanding of some spiritual resources for our journey. I am aware that many autistic adults do not have a favorable view of religion in general therefore, it will be important to highlight the difference between religion and spirituality in the presentation.
1) Participants will gain a general understanding of Religion and Spirituality.
2) Participants will be aware of some emotional/spiritual challenges experienced by autistic adults.
3) Participants will know about a care/nurture framework for autistic adults.
4) Participants will learn of some spiritual resources available for autistic adults.
Speaker Biography: Melvin Rodgers is a self-advocate with counseling training and experience in trauma counseling, family counseling, and substance abuse counseling. He also has a BA in Religion and Philosophy, a Master of Divinity, a Doctorate of Ministry/Counseling, and is a Board-Certified Chaplain.
Aarti Sahgall, Founder of Synergies Work
Igniting Change: An Innovative Approach to Entrepreneurship
Description: Even after three decades of passing of the ADA, more than 70% of working-aged adults with disabilities remain unemployed and continue to live in poverty. Now is the time for real change and a chance to ensure that we include entrepreneurs with disabilities in our outreach to build a world that includes everyone. Synergies Work 's innovative model will demonstrate how building synergies can ensure systemic change that goes beyond accommodations and compliance.
1) Participants will learn what it means to be have an "entrepreneurial mindset"
2) Get access to free resources to get started on their self-employment/ entrepreneurial journey
3) Hear from other entrepreneurs with disabilities who are building small businesses
4) Join a community of entrepreneurs
Speaker Biography: Aarti Sahgal is the Founder & CEO of Synergies Work - the largest nonprofit in the U.S. that enables entrepreneurs with disabilities to build sustainable businesses. We do so by providing end to end business solutions and bridging the opportunity gaps between the disability and the business communities. Synergies Work is a personal mission that stems from life experiences of Aarti Sahgal. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome she is constantly challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations that excludes people with disabilities from living their true potential. Aarti, has been working for more than 17 years on building inclusive communities and workforce strategies for individuals with disabilities. Aarti is the President of GA APSE (Association of People Supporting Employment First) and is on the board of State Rehabilitation Council. She is also on the advisory board of Georgia’s Supported Decision-Making Project, GAO. In her previous avatar, she worked for 14 years in advertising & marketing. She has a Master’s in Business Management from one of the top management schools in India.
Matthew Segall, PhD & Kelsey Bohlke, LPC
Amplifying Voices: Autistic Inclusion on Project Advisory Boards
Description: Our presentation will highlight examples in which we have included autistic voices on advisory boards for projects and programs. We will highlight the Georgia College Transition Partnership, an Advisory Board focused on autistic students’ post-graduate plans. In our presentation, we will highlight our approaches to incorporating the input of our autistic Partners and the powerful contributions they made to Emory Oaks, an autism college support program at Emory University.
(1) Attendees will be able to identify practical strategies for including autistic voices as consultants on project advisory boards
(2) Attendees will be able to describe meaningful outcomes resulting from the inclusion of autistic voices on project advisory boards.
Matt Segall, PhD is a Licensed Psychologist and Program Director at the Emory Autism Center at Emory University. He has been working with autistic students, their families and their educational settings for over 20 years, and has been at the Emory Autism Center since 2010. Most relevant to this presentation, Matt is the Director of Emory Oaks, a support program for autistic college students, and the faculty advisor for the Emory Autism Advocacy Organization, an undergraduate student organization at Emory University. He has held leadership roles on several advisory boards that have included autistic consultants and board members.
Kelsey Bohlke, LPC, CRC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. Kelsey works at the Emory Autism Center at Emory University, and she is the Assistant Director of Emory Oaks, a support program for autistic college students. She has been working with college students with autism and other disabilities for over 10 years.
Meredith Sinclair, MS, CRC
Social Skills Across Neurotypes: Skills for Success While Staying Authentic
Description: Social skills are an important predictor for success in lots of areas of life. It is not about changing them as people, it is about providing tools to use if they choose to be in an environment or with people where they will need them if necessary. Many of the conventional narratives are provided by the medical and deficits model which views social skills as a core impairment of Autism. Looking at it through that lens only misses the richness of many Autistic relationships because we know that many Autistics forge relationships and deep connection across contexts, ages, and areas of life just as neurotypical people do. Social norms vary across neurotypes, which are the differences in brains and the way they interpret and respond to social cues. Different social norms and expectations held by Autistic and non-Autistic neurotypes may not mean one is right and one is wrong but more so there is a misalignment with how people with different neurotypes interact. The social goal and the context of the setting are important in deciding what social skills to use to help develop across neurotypes relationships. It is important for the person to know their objective when deciding how to communicate socially. Learning new social skills does not mean that you have to change who you are as a person. It means you can increase your awareness of the perspective of those around you, so you can reach your goal!
1) Understand the different neurotypes and how to communicate successfully
2) Learn how to apply the appropriate social skill in any setting
3) Learn how to match your social interactions with the goal you are trying to achieve, based on the setting.
4) Understand how to stay authentic and be yourself, while gaining social tools to use in achieving fulfilling relationships.
Speaker Biography: Meredith Sinclair is the Executive Director/Founder of LIFE Behavior Consulting, LLC. Meredith holds a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Pennsylvania State University. She is a certified Rehabilitation Counselor and a Certified PEERS for Young Adults Provider, School Based Provider, and Telehealth provider. Meredith loves working with people with Neurodiverse brain styles to help them learn the skills to build their confidence and independence in working on their goals in life, whatever those may be. Meredith's specialty is helping her clients uncover their strengths and how to apply the skills they are learning out in the real world. She is an advocate for Neurodiversity in the workplace and believes that anyone who has the desire to work CAN work and be successful with the right supports.
Ivy Varenhorst & Michael Rubino
Empowerment Through Self-Care
Description: Due to the fact that people with autism are at an increased risk for mental health struggles, we feel that it is essential to provide methods of dealing with those struggles constructively and empowering themselves to build an ecosystem that best fits their needs.
1. Attendees will gain a wide variety of coping mechanisms.
2. Attendees will be able to implement boundaries in order to protect their mental health.
3. Attendees will be able to identify ways to adapt to stressful situations.
Michael Rubino is a 31-year-old who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 4 and has undergone years of therapy for emotional regulation, social skills training, and emotional coping mechanisms. Michael has worked in a number of different industries including video game development, graphic design, and, currently, web development. Michael also explores his own emotions and the world around him through his art.
Ivy Varenhorst was diagnosed with autism as an adult after surviving two aborted suicide attempts and two behavioral health hospitalizations. Since her diagnosis, Ivy has learned the importance of practicing self-care and boundaries to protect her mental health. Ivy has two bachelor's degrees and is currently studying data analytics. Ivy also blogs about being a woman on the spectrum.