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A young girl in the Infant Toddler program with pigtails and a polka dot sweater holds on to a tricycle by the handle bars.
April 30, 2022 | 9:00 AM

Early Connections Conference

This conference is designed for families of children with visual impairment, birth to 7 years old, and the professionals who support them. Here families can connect, talk to experts and learn new skills to apply at home and in the classroom to help each child define their own success.


Join us for the 39th annual Early Connections Conference to learn, build relationships, and grow your community of support. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge, skills and support you need to help each child define their own success.

We are ready to spend the day with you.

You can expect a mix of live and pre-recorded sessions, Q & A’s, prizes and more. Sessions will run all day from 9-5 ET.

Morning sessions 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

  • Live keynote- “Promoting social-emotional development of students with visual impairments”
  • “Preparing for preschool” followed by live Q & A
  • “Considerations for self feeding and mealtime routines for children with visual impairments”
  • “Expand your child’s cognitive and communication abilities!”

Afternoon sessions 12:30 p.m. 5:00 p.m.

  • “Active Learning DIY style”
  • “Engaging children with visual impairments through early literacy story box activities”
  •  “Orientation and mobility throughout the day”
  • Live: “Planning for preschool: Transitioning from IFSP to IEP”
  • “Evaluations overview” followed by live Q & A
  • Live: “CVI roadmap of understanding”
A student smiles and uses his switch to engage in music therapy.


Promoting social-emotional development of students with visual impairments

This presentation will briefly review social-emotional development and how the development of social-emotional skills is impacted in students with multi-sensory impairments. The bulk of the presentation will review strategies and interventions that parents and professionals can incorporate into their daily activities to help promote social-emotional development in their children and students.

Conference virtual sessions

Engaging children with visual impairments through early literacy story box activities

This presentation addresses a multisensory approach to engage children with visual impairments in early literacy activities through the use of story boxes. The presenters will discuss the purpose of story boxes, as well as ways to create and implement story boxes within a child’s day at school and at home.  

Megan Foran, MS CCC-SLP

Megan is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) at Perkins School for the Blind and adjunct lecturer at Northeastern University. She has significant experience working with individuals who have a variety of communication disorders in the school and private practice settings. Megan has a passion for working with people with multiple disabilities (including those with visual impairments, multiple disabilities, and complex communication needs), and for helping them to find accessible, functional ways to communicate, including through the implementation of various Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) methods.

Valerie Manchester

For the past 15 years, Perkins has been more than just a job, it has been my second home. It is at Perkins where I find joy and humility every day. As a classroom teacher, it is an ongoing adventure with each student exploring and discovering interests, abilities and successes ~ day in and day out. As the art teacher for the Lower School students, I am afforded the freedom to develop a creative program of activities as unique as each student! 

Active Learning DIY style

Active Learning is a powerful educational approach, based on the work of Dr. Lilli Nielsen, which emphasizes that all individuals learn best by being active in the world around them.

This workshop is designed to provide foundational concepts and principles including the key points of Active Learning and will include strategies for implementing this approach with your child at home.  Emphasis will be on how to choose appropriate learning materials and activities for your child.  Practical DIY-style instructions will be provided for making fun, interactive, and engaging learning materials for your child from items you likely already have in your home.

Theresa A. Johnson, OT, MSOT, OTR

Theresa is a registered, licensed occupational therapist at Perkins School for the Blind.  She earned a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from Springfield College.  She has more than 20 years of experience working with children in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, and a specialized child development clinic.  She currently works with students ranging from 3 to 22 years of age in the Deafblind School at Perkins. Theresa has completed several training programs in Active Learning over the past 6 years. She has led presentations and workshops on Active Learning for Perkin School for the Blind, Perkins International, Tufts University, and the 2021 Perkins Early Connections Conference.

Considerations for self feeding and mealtime routines for children with visual impairments

In this presentation, attendees can expect to gain an understanding of common challenges and barriers to self feeding for children with visual impairments. We will review tools and adaptations for children with visual impairments to access and participate in mealtime routines and develop self feeding skills. The presentation will also briefly review oral tactile sensory components which may impact self feeding development for children, as well as provide a variety of foundational strategies that can support self feeding from the sensory perspective.

Molly Bennett, MS, OTR/L

Molly has practiced as a pediatric occupational therapist for seven years, spending time in settings such as early intervention, pediatric outpatient clinic, and adaptive equine assisted therapy with children aged 0-3. She has worked in the Lower School program at Perkins for the past four years, serving a population with diverse medical diagnoses and visual impairments, aged 7-15. Molly is certified in the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) Approach to Feeding, and has experience working with students who are picky eaters or have other feeding related needs due to neuromuscular and oral tactile sensitivities. At Perkins, she works closely within her students’ teams to support self feeding development and participation in mealtime routines.

Tova Teperow, MS OTR/L

Tova is a registered, licensed occupational therapist at Perkins School for the Blind. She is currently working with students in Lower School with vision impairment and multiple disabilities. Before coming to Perkins, Tova worked for four years as a home visiting occupational therapist for early intervention. Tova has extensive experience in treating children with oral and tactile sensitivity, low muscle tone, and “picky eaters.” Every day she is helping students develop their self-feeding skills, often building independence through the use of adaptive feeding equipment.  

Expand your child’s cognitive and communication abilities!

Begin today! Your child is already thinking and communicating. Learn how to identify observable behaviors that tell you what your child is thinking and communicating at the birth to two years of age (Sensorimotor Level). Learn play and game strategies you can begin using immediately with your child to encourage growth and development. Handouts describing how parent interactions can support these interactive games will be provided. These strategies are based on the interconnectedness of three theorists: Jean Piaget, Lilli Nielsen, and Jan van Dijk.

Susan Mary DeCaluwe, M.Ed., TDB, TVI, TSSN, INSITE Trainer

Susan DeCaluwe has extensive experience as a presenter, consultant, teacher, and author. She specializes in supporting learners of all ages with deafblindness, intellectual disability and/or multiple disabilities and is currently Perkins’ Lead Infant/Toddler Teacher. Susan has provided hundreds of training opportunities to professionals and parents through the Deafblind Project/New England Consortium, Perkins International, Boston College and many other national and international agencies. She has participated in approximately 20 publications, webcasts, and webinars. Areas of expertise include Communication Portfolios, Sensorimotor Development, INSITE training, Jan van Dijk’s-Co Active Movement, Lilli Nielsen’s – Active Learning, PIWI Model, and disability awareness through puppetry – “Kids on the Block.”

Preparing for preschool!

During this presentation, Beth will provide tips and strategies to help prepare your child and yourself for a successful transition to the world of preschool. Special emphasis will be placed on building positive relationships with your child’s educational team.

Beth Allen, M.Ed., TVI

Beth started her extensive career at Perkins School for the Blind by working in the residential setting of the Secondary program, including a supervisory role, all while attending school to become a TVI. Working with the oldest students with an emphasis on independence was the perfect preparation for working with the youngest students! Beth is now a TVI/classroom teacher in Perkins Early Learning Center working with preschool aged students with visual impairments and additional disabilities. Beth has a specialized interest in incorporating cortical/cerebral vision impairment accommodations and instructional strategies into the classroom. And her motto – It is never too early to start working on independence! In her classroom everyday she is helping students build their communication, self-determination and daily living skills

Planning for preschool: Transitioning from IFSP to IEP

Learn how to support your child’s transition from Early Intervention (0-3 years) to school-based services by understanding the initial individual education plan (IEP) process

Brenda Allair, M.Ed., TVI

Brenda has 20 years experience in the field of Early Education and has been a licensed Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments for more than 12 years. She is the Infant Toddler Coordinator with Perkins School for the Blind Community Programs.  In addition to her supervisory role, she also works with the program as an itinerant TVI, serving infants/toddlers and their families in Western Mass.  Brenda has been an advisor on several national projects to support families of children with special health care needs and has a special interest in supporting families of children who have visual impairment and complex medical conditions.

Evaluations overview

Learn about the IEP evaluation process, independent evaluations, and the critical role of TVIs in evaluations, and other special considerations for children with vision loss or deafblindness.

Justine Carlone Rines, M.S. CCC-SLP

Justine began her career as a speech language pathologist in the Secondary school at Perkins School for the Blind. She spent several years coordinating Perkins’ independent evaluation services and is now the Associate Director of Evaluations and Admission for the Lower School.

Orientation and mobility in your everyday routine

Learn some of the basic travel techniques and  concepts of orientation and mobility  and how you can incorporate those into everyday activities. 

Kristen Clark M.Ed. COMS

Kristen is the Assistant Education Director with Community Programs at Perkins as well as a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist. She first joined Perkins in 2016, serving as an

itinerant teacher covering central and southern Massachusetts. She also supports and co-facilitates Perkins’ Pre-Employment Program, focusing on areas of mobility, transportation and community outings. Prior to coming to Perkins she worked for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. She began her career in school systems as a Physical Therapist Assistant.

CVI: A roadmap of understanding

Join us for an interactive session about CVI with parents, leading educators, and individuals with CVI. Discover what the everyday looks like, tips for navigating the unknowns, and a deep dive at the current understanding and future of CVI. Plus, get a first look at the new Perkins CVI Protocol, a new digital assessment system and educational roadmap for the whole child.


Ellen Mazel, M.Ed., CTVI

Ellen has over 40 years of expertise in the field of visual impairments, multiple disabilities, deafblindness, CVI, early intervention and transition. She leads Perkins Center for Excellence in Cortical Visual Impairment / Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI). CVI is the leading cause of childhood visual impairment in the U.S. Ellen received her Master of Education degree from Boston College in the program for children with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. She has worked in residential programs, educational collaboratives, early intervention programs and public school classrooms.

Marguerite Tibaudo, M.Ed., TVI

Marguerite has over 20 years of service in the field of visual impairments, multiple disabilities and Deafblindness—as Lead Teacher of the Deafblind Program at Perkins, as a classroom teacher and as a specialty early intervention provider for children who were Deaf or hard-of-hearing. She is now helping to lead Perkins Center for Excellence in Cortical Visual Impairment / Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI), the leading cause of childhood visual impairment in the U.S. Marguerite received her Master of Education degree from Boston College in severe special education with a specialization in deafblindness.

Rachel Bennett, M.Ed.

Rachel is a special education teacher, a leading parent advocate for children with CVI, and a parent of a child with CVI, Henry. Rachel knows what it is like to fight for Henry’s success. She intimately knows the struggles, fears, joys and precious moments of hope that come with raising a child with a complex visual impairment. She works hard to implement a visually accessible day for Henry, including inclusive CVI instructional methodologies, interventions, and adapted materials. Through her learning and advocacy, Rachel gained an in-depth knowledge of CVI and collaborated with families and professionals in the field.

Burju Sari, M.Ed., TVI

Burju Sari is a CVI Project Coordinator at CVI Center Perkins School for the Blind, where she collaborates with school teams and families, leads CVI training for teams and professionals, conducts assessments, and supports implementation of educational programming for students with CVI. For the past 6 years, Burju worked as an itinerant TVI in the Community Programs at Perkins. Burju received her MBA certificate at Salem State University and Master’s in Education for Teaching Students with Visual Impairment at UMass Boston. She has developed and led training about CVI and low vision, both locally and in Europe, for families and professionals. Burju has a son with special needs and CVI who has been an impetus for her achievements in supporting, educating, and advocating for students, families, and educators.

Lacey Smith, M.Ed., TVI

Lacey is a CVI Project Coordinator for the CVI Center at Perkins School for the Blind. Lacey has worked closely with young children with visual impairments, multiple disabilities, rare disease, and dual sensory loss providing consult and support to the student, families, and their teams. Lacey has a Bachelor’s in General Studies with Concentration on Early Childhood Education from the University of Kansas, a Master’s
in Education as a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, (TVI) from UMass Boston, and a Graduate Certificate in Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) also achieved at Umass Boston. Lacey’s interest was inspired by her 10-year-old daughter’s diagnosis of CVI. She continues to strive to learn more about CVI and loves supporting
families with all she has learned along her own journey.


Have questions about the Early Connections Conference?

For information on professional credits and available courses, please visit Perkins eLearning.

You will have access to pre-recorded sessions on a wide range of topics that you can watch at any time. When you register for the conference, you will be invited to attend special “live” virtual sessions, speaker Q&As, and more.