Our Speakers - click to see bio
Gus and Leah are a married couple on the Autism Spectrum. Gus was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of 40. He is a Computer Engineering PhD with a nearly 20-year career in Microprocessor Architecture but also has a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and a passion for writing. In addition, Gus is the father of a precocious middle school-aged boy, also likely on the Autism Spectrum (but not officially diagnosed). Although separated from his child's mother, Gus is a very active parent. Leah was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 30. She has experience working in political and union organizing as well as in education, and is pursuing a career as an instructional designer. Both of them are devoted aspiring novelists, each working on their first book. Leah and Gus are in a committed, long-term romantic, artistic, and Autistic relationship. They share a household and all of the assets and responsibilities this includes: finances, cooking, cleaning, shopping, personal space and articles, calendars, etc., not to mention the care of an Autistic tuxedo cat. As a couple, they speak to the experiences both of growing up as Aspies, as well as raising one in a co-parenting capacity. They can also address the unique challenges and benefits of living as a couple on the Autism Spectrum. These include bridging inherent barriers to communication, coping with emotional and sensory issues, and managing both shared deficits and complementary gifts. But it also entails the strong solidarity and connection that come from sharing an atypical point of view and confronting a world that, more often than not, fails to understand or empathize. They testify to the fact that it is possible to find companionship, intimacy, laughter, and love on the Autism Spectrum.
Elizabeth Avery was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 2002 at the age of 37 and has been speaking for AANE since 2006. Elizabeth speaks on social issues. She has spoken at the State House about the importance of diagnosis in obtaining appropriate services for individuals of all ages with AS. She has spoken to legislators about the social and vocational needs of adults with AS and about the impact of bullying on children with AS. She would like to speak to employers in order to familiarize them with AS and with the types of environments that help employees with AS perform best on the job. Elizabeth is in a long-term relationship with a man who also has AS, and she has given talks and sat on panels that address dating and relationship issues. She also speaks regularly with 4th and 5th grade children as a part of the Understanding Our Differences curriculum in the Newton, Lexington, and Watertown public schools. Elizabeth’s talks are described as genuine and inspirational. She is soft-spoken with a gentle sense of humor.
David Barach was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in his mid-30’s. He talks passionately about his personal struggles growing up in a neurotypical world where he always felt different. His specialty is talking about adult issues, particularly employment. David has presented at several workshops at MRC to help vocational counselors increase their understanding of AS. He speaks about the values of disclosure and the benefits of having one’s diagnosis known in the workplace. He also speaks to teachers and employers about creating school and work environments that are welcoming to individuals with AS. David particularly enjoys educating people who aren't familiar with Asperger’s/autism. He is a committed to helping and supporting others.
Kat Bloomfield is a nonprofit executive and fundraising professional who has inspired nearly $12 million in charitable giving over 10 years. As an avid arts and STEAM advocate, she feels a strong connection to the principles of social entrepreneurship, particularly centered around arts-integrated racial and economic justice.
As Founder and CEO of Arts Business Collaborative, a nonprofit technical assistance organization dedicated to improving quality of life for people of color through the arts and STEAM, Kat and a team of 17 consultants of color provide a combination of technical assistance, entrepreneurship support, research, community organizing, and fiscal sponsorship to address barriers facing communities and artists of color. Kat has worked with Tribeca Film Institute, New York Hall of Science, the JCC in Manhattan, New York Council on Nonprofits, Red Hook Initiative, the Ron Brown Scholar Fund, Contemporary&, TRANSART, and several other community-based organizations.
Kat is Secretary of the Board of Directors at the Bloomingdale School of Music; and serves on the Company Stephanie Batten Bland (Company SBB) and Ron Brown Scholars Program (RBS) Advisory Boards. Kat is a graduate of Wellesley College with a dual Bachelors in Media Arts and Sciences and Printmaking and earned a Masters in Nonprofit Management with a concentration in Online Community Organizing at Northeastern University.
Kat was one of the speakers featured at AANE's Uncommon Gala in 2019.
Kendrick Cronin is a neurodivergent trans man who is currently completing a master's degree in clinical counseling through Southern New Hampshire University. He is passionate about person-centered care and intentional, intersectional inclusivity of folks across the spectrum of humanity. His professional focus is to increase understanding of and thus depathologize neurodivergency, transgender experiences, and living with mental illnesses. He currently lives in Minnesota, where he works for BridgesMN in employment services to support disabled people in seeking meaningful employment, and interns at Touchstone Mental Health, a residential treatment facility.
Meet Elizabeth and James, a uniquely wonderful couple who have mastered the many challenges that a relationship between two Aspergian individuals pose. Both diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in their adult lives, Elizabeth and James talk openly and candidly about the importance that communication, respect, kindness and shared values hold in a relationship. While these qualities are at the core of every healthy relationship, Elizabeth and James explain the importance of very clear, explicit communication between individuals who have Asperger Syndrome. Elizabeth and James talk about the importance of developing friendships with a variety of people before settling into a long term intimate relationship with one person. Elizabeth and James live together and can talk about the importance of personal space and accommodations in the home that enable individuals with Asperger profiles to live comfortable and fulfilling lives together.
Jay Eveson-Egler is an autistic self-advocate and current program manager with AANE. They’ve worked with neurodiversity based organizations in a variety of roles, including as a 1:1 community companion, teacher, recruiter, and administrative assistant. Jay’s primary interests lie in assisting autistic individuals with transition into post-secondary educational settings, supporting autistic peer-to-peer connections, and understanding LGBTQIA+ issues, and their intersections with autism. They have prior experience founding and facilitating neurodiverse peer support groups at both Holyoke Community College and Mount Holyoke College and remain active as an adviser with the Neurodiverse Students Association at Mount Holyoke, where they graduated with their bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Education in 2020.
Zeynep Goktas is an Associate Professor at a university in Europe. She has a Ph.D. in Nutritional Biochemistry and is a researcher in the field. She was diagnosed with autism in her late 20s. Lacking any accommodations and support throughout her school years, she struggled and had to find her own learning style. Although she still struggles, she uses her experience to provide a better learning environment for her students. She is passionate about learning how different languages are affected by culture. She is an avid reader of fantasy/sci-fi books. As a speaker she talks about autism related advantages and disadvantages in school and the workplace. She also likes to talk about cultural differences and how these differences effect autism perception.
Bryn Healy (she/her) is a college student, majoring in Sociology and Politics with a nexus in Law, Public Policy and Human Rights. Healy was diagnosed as Autistic at age 16, a couple of months before junior year of high school. Many women, like Healy, share the experience of being diagnosed later than their cis-male counterparts. Healy is passionate about raising awareness about the varying presentations of Autism in different individuals, and intersections between Autism and various other neurodivergences (i.e. misophonia, OCD, sensory processing, etc.). It was a journey for Healy to come to be open about her diagnosis due to discrimination and ableism in her K-12 education and from her peers. She wants to spread the word about what medical professionals, educators, and other students can do to support neurodivergent and disabled students.
Edward Hudson is a self-diagnosed adult with AS. Mr. Hudson grew up in the 1950's at a time when Asperger's Syndrome was unknown to the medical community. The understanding that he developed about his AS opened a new world to him, as he began to understand and accept himself for who he is. He has used his artistic talents to develop a career in the helping profession. In his talks, he describes what it was like to grow up in the 1950's in a neurotypical world and to find his voice. Mr. Hudson has spoken on several topics, including how he made his AS work for him, the power of disclosure, and the power of recreating one’s life after diagnosis. He encourages fellow "Aspies" to accept their uniqueness, find their niche, and make it work. His positive personality and positive attitude about life show that with hard work and realistic goals, individuals with AS can reach their dreams.
Nomi Kaim is best known for her expertise on Asperger Syndrome (ASD) and mental health challenges. She also specializes in communication, language, and the developmental trajectory of individuals on the spectrum. Nomi enjoys speaking at conferences, trainings, workshops and classes. Past audiences have included mental health professionals, coaches, teachers, students (elementary through graduate), parents and family members, and youth and adults on the spectrum. She has been featured in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and on NPR, and her work appears in book and textbook chapters. She has also published several personal articles, including “Asperger’s and Depression: Inside a Common Paradox” (2008). In 2011, Nomi won first place from the Patriots Charitable Foundation for her volunteer work, among contestants from across New England. She was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2004, at the age of 21, and suffers from chronic anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Charlie is a lively and entertaining speaker who can make the most uncomfortable topics bearable through self-deprecating humor. Which is a good thing, because he also happens to have extensive knowledge of a bunch of really uncomfortable topics. If you're looking for insights on how ASD impacts such areas as Internet safety, addiction, criminal justice, or the prison system, you're unlikely to find a more engaging or well-informed speaker than Charlie. Even better, he's willing to share his personal experiences with a level of candor that many find heartwarmingly courageous.
Alternately, he can talk about normal Aspie stuff. And he knows some jokes.
With the firm belief that being diagnosed as autistic was one of the best things in her life, Aparna's story is both unique and refreshing as she not only embraces, but finds strength, support, and validation within the autistic community. As a South Asian woman, Aparna's journey evidences tenacity. Undiagnosed, Aparna earned a BA in International Relations from UC Davis and an MBA in Finance from The Wharton School. After completing her degree, Aparna struggled to find meaningful employment. Aparna often felt alone and alienated from her colleagues and managers, and she experienced workplace bullying and discrimination, which left their mark in the form of trauma, anxiety, and depression. Finally diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum in her 40's, Aparna's entire world shifted. Instead of constantly feeling alone and alienated, Aparna immersed herself in understanding the diagnosis, identifying available resources, and, for the first time, finding and building a network of advocates and supporters. Aparna's goal as a speaker is to take away the stigma and fear of a diagnosis and ensure things are better for future generations.
Karen Lean brings the perspective of a woman who was diagnosed in her 30s with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Central Auditory Processing Disorder. She represents one of the increasingly recognized female autism profiles: shy, sensitive, compliant, academically strong but socially suffering. Karen credits diagnosis and intense personal work to her finding a fulfilling career and relationship. Karen speaks about many topics, including being an autistic female, relationships, self-advocacy, mindfulness, and self-esteem. Karen is particularly passionate about helping organizations create truly inclusive working environments. She is an engaging speaker whose sensitivity and deep intellect are readily apparent in her talks. Her essay appears in the book, " Sincerely, Your Autistic Child: What People on the Autism Spectrum Wish Their Parents Knew About Growing Up, Acceptance, and Identity" produced by the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network. Originally from Canada, she resides in rural New Hampshire and works in Healthcare IT.
Gretchen Leary was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age twenty three. She is the author of two children’s books that promote and encourage compassion for those with Autism called Really Really Like Me and The Quiet Bear. She is currently working on a novel with a similar goal but in the fantasy realm. She is the Executive Director of a non-profit that serves individuals with developmental disabilities in the Greater Boston Area called BostonCalm. She is also a self advocate and advocate for others and has spoken in various settings in Massachusetts, Texas, and in a classroom in Olongapo City, Philippines about her experiences before and after her diagnosis and what she’s doing to help others with the same diagnosis. She has donated copies of her books in an international project called The Really Really Like Me Project and hopes each book is a planted seed of hope for others. Gretchen is a member of the LGBT community and loves to speak about advocating for everyone to have a voice and how unity within community can change the world.
Zachary J. LeFevre is a proud adult on the autism spectrum with the passions of cooking, writing, and sharing positivity and motivation. As previous president of Manchester Community College's Business honor society, Kappa Beta Delta, Zachary was given the chance to lead and inspire a team of talented individuals and sponsor numerous charity events in the area such as Chris's Pets For Vets and the New Horizons Food Shelter. Zachary was diagnosed with ADHD when he was almost 5, and at age 15 his doctor remarked that he had “Asperger's like” symptoms. It wasn't until age 18 that Zachary was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. As such, Zachary wasn't given many of the resources available to children on the autism spectrum at the time and struggled throughout his childhood. Today he lives in Manchester, NH, and is pursuing a degree in Business Communications at Manchester Community College. As someone on the spectrum with difficulties in processing communication, Zachary's studies have given him remarkable insights on how to be better represent himself when connecting to another person. His message is that communication is key and that we can't make it happen on our own. To be able to celebrate autism, Zachary believes in the power of people coming together as "people need people", a favorite saying that he stands by proudly.
Zachary and his mother were featured as speakers at AANE's Uncommon Gala in 2019.
Aaron Levinger was born in 1989 and diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in his middle school years. Since 2011, Aaron has spoken to numerous elementary school students as part of the Understanding Our Differences program. In 2013, Aaron was given the Katie Lynch Memorial Award as Speaker of the Year. Aaron is particularly skillful at responding to questions raised by young students. His warm and honest style makes him a wonderful speaker for children. He has also given presentations for many other kinds of groups, including teachers, college psychology students, after-school staff, and at several AANE conferences. In his talks, Aaron addresses many of the issues that he experienced as a child growing up with AS. Aaron is employed doing meaningful work in several settings.
David Levitan was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in 2005 at the age of 54. David speaks about growing up with autistic traits, as well as a severe Sensory Processing Disorder (SID). Dealing with sensory disintegration and overload can be perplexing for children and their parents. David unravels this complex condition with sensitivity and humor. He suggests coping strategies for those who are challenged by sensory issues. More importantly, David gives insights into the parent-child relationship that are geared toward preserving the child's self-esteem, feelings of acceptance and sense of well-being. Parents of children with SID will benefit from understanding this puzzling syndrome, finding relief from unnecessary stress. David earned a Doctor of Science degree in the field of Jewish Studies. He has taught adults at the adult education and college levels. David has taught English and Math to teenagers with developmental disabilities. In addition, he has several years of public speaking experience at regional and international conferences. David also made a presentation before members of the Massachusetts legislature on a topic of autism advocacy. David's presentation would be highly informative and instructional to parents, professionals and adults on the autism spectrum.
Ryan Litchfield was diagnosed with autism in 1996 at the age of two. He was not able to talk, verbalize, or gesture. He underwent many hours of applied behavioral analysis, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. Ryan also dealt with epilepsy and thyroid disease. Ryan has endured many hardships and obstacles in his life, and many were uncertain as to what his future would hold. Ryan has defied the odds by persevering and embracing resilience through life challenges. For over seven years, he has been sharing his life journey with various agencies, communities, individuals, and organizations. In 2017, Ryan graduated from Assumption University with a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies and a Certificate in Aging Services specializing in working with older adults and people with disabilities. Ryan brings experience helping adults with autism pursue life goals by identifying their strengths and talents to help them reach successful outcomes as he promotes compassion, empathy, and kindness to provide them hope and strength. Ryan has had several blogs published on the Organization for Autism Research (OAR) and has been featured on several podcasts talking about autism topics. Ryan recently was on a virtual interview for the Global Autism Project. Ryan’s experiences with public speaking would be described by colleagues as embracing humor, inspiration, and words of wisdom. Ryan has presented on various autism topics including but not limited to postsecondary education, employment, the ADA and reasonable accommodations, autism and aging, autism and thyroid disease, and autism and mental illness.
Mike Mayes, is a 28 year old man diagnosed with high functioning autism. Mike graduated from Mitchell College in 2013 and received his graduate degree from Mount Ida College in 2017. Mike currently holds two jobs. He coaches baseball and works for the New Revolution as a game day coordinator. Mike also volunteers for Marshfield youth football.
In the past, Mike has worked as a classroom mentor and a summer youth leader. He was bullied during high school, but with courage and determination he overcame the effects of the bullying. As a result, he is deeply committed to being accepted for who he is—a person with autism—and to helping others advocate for themselves. Mike has been a motivational speaker for over 10 years. He speaks on such topics as growing up with autism, bullying, transitions, and the impact of special education laws on people on the spectrum. His goal as a speaker is to give parents hope, and to encourage professionals to have high expectations for their students who are on the autism spectrum. Mike has been a keynote speaker for Autism Speaks, for the Flutie Foundation, and for Mass Advocates for Children. Mike has demonstrated how hard work, commitment and perseverance can lead to success. He is an inspiration to anyone who is on the Autism Spectrum.
Note: Mike and his mother, Catherine Mayes, are available to present together about the challenges facing mother and son when a child in the family has autism.
Lynne Mitchell, a licensed social worker and her adult son Jason present a heartwarming and inspiring story of their journey towards self understanding and independence as mother and son. Jason Mitchell was diagnosed with AS at the end of 1st grade in 1998. He is now 27 years old and has graduated from Bridgewater State College. Lynne Mitchell is a clinical social worker and is currently the clinical director of Granite Academy a middle/high school that serves students with social-emotional needs as well as students with ASD. Lynne has been specializing in AS professionally even before she was faced with AS at home. This mother/son team has been presenting to parent groups and at conferences giving both the perspective of the child and the parent as they face the ups and downs that come with living with AS as both a child and parent. “Self-Understanding and Self-Advocacy” a second presentation focuses on the process of how a parent can give the child the self-understanding necessary to become his/her own self-advocate. Insights from the parent perspective include how to tell the child that they have a unique learning style and what that means for their interactions with the rest of the world. In addition Lynne shares stories of when and how to back off to begin to increase the child’s ability to self-advocate for their needs. Jason openly discusses what it was like for him to learn and live with AS across the years. He discusses the ups and downs he has felt about his differences and clearly points out the things his family has done over the years that help and that don’t help his journey toward self-understanding and self-advocacy. This presentation brings to life, through real stories and experiences the process one family followed as they learned what AS means to them and how to live with it.
Sue Ann Pien identifies as an actually autistic actress who stars in the Amazon Original series written by Jason Katims, "As We See It", which is a coming of age comedic drama about three roommates in their 20s that are on the spectrum. Sue Ann enjoys rock climbing, space (the outer kind), and coming up with novel ways to protect Earth's biodiversity. Her filmmaking talents can be seen in the varied music videos she's created for her singer-songwriter wife Cynthia Catania through their production company Monolid Productions. Sue Ann is a warm, engaging speaker who shares with audiences her perspective on masking, intersectionality, mental health, and authentic autistic representation in tv and film.
Nicole Seaward was successful in her employment pursuits, earned a master’s degree graduating Summa Cum Laude, was an avid volunteer, found true love, then her entire world crashed down around her. In her late thirties, accustomed to success and independence, she suddenly found herself unable to work or complete the simplest daily tasks; she relied entirely on her husband’s compassionate support. Autism was never mentioned before, but the signs had always been there. She had many of the associated mental and physical challenges listed in her medical chart and behavioral aspects were sprinkled throughout her school report cards. Nicole’s obsession with collecting pieces of her past and writing in journals became indispensable tools after her autism diagnosis, as she pieced her life together like a forensic psychologist. She always knew she was different from her peers and that something was “wrong” with her body. She experienced widespread joint pain, GI issues, trouble eating and sleeping, and daily panic attacks. She struggled with friendships, romantic relationships, abuse, and couldn’t quite figure out “who” she was, or “what” sexuality meant. She kept all of it hidden through unconscious masking and camouflaging.
Upon receiving her diagnosis, she dove into research to understand autism and found two incredible disparities. The first, research has largely overlooked the experiences of women on the spectrum and therefore, many go undiagnosed. Nicole was frustrated and vowed to stop masking, to speak openly about her diagnosis and to help foster a greater understanding of the experiences of women on the spectrum; what autism “looks like”; and bring attention to Autistic Burnout. Second, she learned that autistic individuals have a high rate of unemployment or underemployment. Combining her passion for research and educational background in Leadership and Organizational Psychology, Nicole is extremely knowledgeable on the benefits of increasing neurodiversity in organizations.
Christian Tsetsos was diagnosed in 1994 with Asperger's Syndrome when he was five years old. Christian has been giving speeches and participating on panels since 2010. The primary focus of Christian’s speeches has been about his educational experiences and the accommodations that have helped him succeed over the years. Christian has spoken at educator conferences, teacher workshops and public schools about his educational and life experiences. He also participates on a regular basis in the Tertiary Prevention Course of the Nursing Program at a local university. Christian meets with nursing students each semester to share his life experiences as an individual with Asperger's, with the goal of making healthcare professionals aware of individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Christian has been working full time in the Human Services Field since graduating from college in 2014. When in college, he had internships and also held a part time job. He has mastered social challenges over the years contributing to his success in the workplace. Christian talks candidly and honestly about how to be successful in the workplace.
Ryan is a recent graduate from Westfield State University with a Bachelor's in Sociology. He is also a musician that has studied a variety of instruments over the last fourteen years and is highly involved with music and podcast production. When he is not creating music, he enjoys playing video games and spending time with his friends. Ryan has been speaking with AANE since 2014 and always enjoys and appreciates the opportunity to speak on his lived experience as someone on the autism spectrum. Ryan speaks on topics related to self-advocacy, mental health, education, employment, and building meaningful connections.
Since he was diagnosed with AS in 2007, Michael Wilcox has become a strong advocate for individuals with AS and related differences. He sits on several boards that represent the interests of individuals on the autism spectrum, and he has spoken at the State House to advocate for people on the spectrum. Michael has talked at length about the relationship between AS and anxiety. He has also spoken about romantic relationships and couples issues, and has participated in many panels exploring the challenges couples face when one or both partners has AS. Michael is an extraordinary speaker: the images he evokes in his talks are rich and powerful, creating a genuinely moving experience for his listeners.