UMaine to host national experts on inclusive education for students with autism and developmental disabilities

Educators and other professionals in Maine who support people with autism, intellectual disabilities and other developmental conditions will have the opportunity to learn from some of the country’s leading researchers and practitioners at the University of Maine next month.

The Council for Exceptional Children Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities (CEC DADD) is hosting its summer board meeting at UMaine on July 20. The next day, July 21, the division, in collaboration with the UMaine College of Education and Human Development and Maine Department of Education Office of Special Services and Inclusive Education, will host its Summer Symposium on campus. 

“A few years ago, the leadership of the Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities decided that wherever we hold our summer board meeting, we also would host a symposium, or mini-conference, at a minimal cost to local educators,” says Bree Jimenez, CEC DADD president and associate professor of special education at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“Part of the reason we selected Maine as the site for this year’s symposium was because of the strong partnership between UMaine’s College of Education and Human Development and the Maine DOE, and both organizations’ commitment to inclusive educational practices for people with autism and developmental disabilities,” Jimenez adds.

Sarah Howorth, associate professor of special education at UMaine, has long been involved with the CEC DADD. Howorth is director of Maine Access to Inclusive Education Resources (MAIER), an information and resource clearinghouse for professionals and families to assist in accessing and navigating programs and services related to inclusive education of students with autism and other disabilities. MAIER was established at UMaine in 2014 with significant financial support from Maine DOE, and continues to receive the bulk of its funding from the Office of Special Services and Inclusive Education.

“There’s critical work happening in Maine right now to ensure equitable and sustainable access to education for all individuals,” says Howorth. “By bringing its summer symposium here, CEC DADD is recognizing these efforts and providing an important learning opportunity for the teachers, caregivers and others who support people with autism and intellectual disabilities in the state everyday.”

The symposium will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on July 21, and will feature two strands related to inclusive practices for students with autism and other disabilities: “Access to the Curriculum” and “Quality of Life.” Workshops, led by experts from the CEC DADD, include “Evidence-Based Practices for Implementing Physical Activity and Motor Development Programs in Pre-K and Elementary Classrooms” and “Planning for Life After High School.” 

Rachel McInnis is program coordinator for Woodfords Family Services, which operates a preschool and special purpose private school in Waterville for students who have disabilities. She registered to attend the CEC DADD symposium to learn more about inclusive practices for her students. She says she’s particularly interested in learning more about implementing new physical activity and motor development activities in Woodfords’ K–5 program.

“I find that opportunities like this can give teachers confidence in the things we already know, but also give us a new perspective or angle on an approach, as well as teach us something we’ve never thought of before,” McInnis says. “I hope to share the knowledge gained with our teachers and empower them in their teaching. I also hope for our students to engage in new and exciting activities.”

Registration for the 2023 CEC DADD Summer Symposium is $30 for individuals planning to attend in-person, $40 for virtual, or $100 for schools or other organizations that would like to host a group attending virtually. The cost for vendors wishing to attend the conference is $40 per table. More information and a link to register is online.