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April 27, 2024 | 8:00 AM

Early Connections Conference 2024

Learn, connect, and ask questions for your child, student and family in a supportive environment made up of experts and families like yours—with children from birth to age 7 who are blind, deafblind, or low-vision, including those who have multiple complex disabilities.
A young Nolan wears glasses and smiles.

You’re invited

Let’s connect!

Join us April 27, 2024, at our Watertown campus or via our conference app. For 2024, the theme is Educate!

Come explore resources, share your story, and learn from experts who are here to meet the needs of families and students for children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities. Early Connections is a day dedicated to you—to meeting other families who are also starting their journey in special education, celebrating your children, and helping you find guidance on next steps for you and your child.

Find and build a community for the rest of your child’s life.

Registration is open!

We’re excited to offer both in-person and virtual tickets.

In-person tickets

The in-person experience includes breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Plus activities like raffles and exploring vendor booths. Please note that childcare is not provided at the 2024 conference.

Early-bird: $40 until March 1, 2024

Regular: $50 starting March 1, 2024

Virtual tickets

Sessions will be available on our conference app. Login instructions will be emailed to registered participants closer to the conference date.

Regular: $35

Groups and scholarships

Groups: Purchase 3 tickets and receive a 4th at no cost. Contact us for more information and next steps.

Family and Personal Care Attendant Scholarships: A limited amount of scholarships are available for families and Personal Care Attendants of attendees. Contact us for more information and next steps.

Justification letter for employers

Why should your employer send you to our conference? Use our sample justification letter as a template to help explain the benefits you will get (and be able to share) by attending the 2024 Early Connections Conference.

Register today

Tickets

The numbers below include tickets for this event already in your cart. Clicking “Get Tickets” will allow you to edit any existing attendee information as well as change ticket quantities.
Early bird in-person admission
Ends on 03/01/2024
$40.00
Virtual admission
$35.00
Unlimited

What to expect

Sessions will include valuable advice and tips to help you make connections with, and for, your child or student — including time to connect with other families and professionals to swap stories, share tips and just get to know one another.

Our speakers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise including:

  • Accessible Technology 
  • Literacy 
  • Adapted physical education
  • Orientation and Mobility 
  • Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) 
  • Deafblindness
  • Medically complex diagnoses

2024 Sessions

Description

Parents play a crucial role in creating a supportive home environment that addresses accessibility, learning and accommodation needs for the successful implementation of a personalized program for children with visual impairment and multiple disabilities. This presentation explores the seven golden guidelines for effectively facilitating inclusive learning  for a child with visual impairment and multiple disabilities to reach their maximum potential.

Meet the presenter

Dr. Sini Regi Thomas,MA, M.Ed., Ph.D, DSE(ID), DSE(Db) Educational Leadership Program (ELP) scholar

Description

In this presentation, attendees can expect to receive a comprehensive introduction to psychological testing. The presenter will delve into the nuances of psychological testing for students who are visually impaired, blind, or deafblind, and how it differs from testing for the general population. The audience will also gain insight into the objectives of psychological testing, along with the essential questions to ask before undergoing an evaluation. Furthermore, the speaker will provide an overview of the various psychological services available to young children.

Meet the presenter

Description

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) have undertaken an IEP Improvement Project, and released a new IEP form at the start of the 2023-24 school year. By the 2024-25 school year, all school districts in Massachusetts are expected to implement use of this revised form. Some schools, including Perkins, have begun using the new IEP form during the 2023-24 school year. DESE considered significant stakeholder input throughout this project, and the resulting form includes renewed focus on student-driven and student-centered planning, as well as collaboration between families and school-based teams. This presentation will provide an overview of the IEP form, and the ways in which students and families contribute to development of the student’s plan.

Meet the presenters

Jordynn Nowak, M.Ed. Sp.Ed., Moderate and Severe Disabilities-Assistant Education Director

Stephanie Provenzano, M.Ed. IEP Coordinator, Teacher of Students with Severe Disabilities

Laura Maloney, Special Education, BS. Ed. Teacher

Description

This presentation reviews the importance of posture and positioning, what is ideal, what is seen, and what we can do to improve it. Case studies, benefits of changing positions, and positioning tools will be discussed as a group. Attendees will leave understanding why positioning and postural support is significant for the child with visual needs, what positioning options are available, and how this information will support their child or the children they work with.

Meet the presenter

Description

This presentation will focus on the basics of structured literacy (also described as “Science of Reading”) via considerations and inclusive practices in reading for students with vision impairment and other disabilities. School based and outside literacy supports will be showcased, as well as practical resources and activity ideas for home and daily living.

Meet the presenters

Kate LeBlanc, TVI, M.Ed.- Secondary and Admissions Evaluations

Ellen Barber, MS CCC-SLP Speech-Language Pathologist, Secondary

Description

Perkins Social Media Strategist will share her childhood to career journey.

Meet the presenter

Katie Norton, Perkins Social Media Strategist

As a parent of a young child with a visual impairment, it often feels like you are consumed with the here and now. Understandably. Yet, knowledge about different transitions for your child, including formal and informal ones, can help anticipate and plan ahead so your child is as ready as they can be for the next step. Join Andrea Rutherford, TVI, Director of Compass @ Perkins, a college readiness program, and Leslie Thatcher, EdM, Director of Program Development and Planning at the Transition Center @ Perkins, to learn more about transitions, and how you can be prepared as an advocate, parent and key player in your child’s growth. We will explore the skills, including skills through the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), your student can work on at home and school, to create a range of opportunities and options as your child grows.

Meet the presenters

Description

In this presentation, learn how to adapt board games and other types of games for families to play together, and what materials are needed to do so. Attendees will also get a chance to see examples and discuss how they were made accessible.

Meet the presenters

Marie Russo-Amaral, M.Ed.TVI

Mireya Canto Diaz, M.Ed. TVI, COMS, CATIS-Itinerant Teacher

Description

Sign up for a 15-minute 1:1 CVI Parent Support mini-session. Whether you are new to CVI, just received a diagnosis, or are more experienced but seeking answers, we are here to talk and provide you with information and resources. We know how hard this is and all the challenges parents have to navigate raising their child with CVI. Lean in. We’ve got you. We can focus on what’s heavy on your mind and heart, including what comes after a new diagnosis, wondering if your child has CVI, navigating early intervention and the school system, transition, adaptations, and/or any other relevant CVI topic.

The skills and technology that will be discussed have a focus towards academic and functional use, but we welcome all families to join!

Meet the presenters

Description

In this presentation, apps suited for visually-impaired children and the technology used to engage with them will be explored. These apps will be separated into different centers of learning, providing a broad spectrum of subjects ranging from early language development to fine-motor skills.

Meet the presenter

Sarah E. Hart, Assistant Coordinator of Residential Living at Perkins School for the Blind

Location: Hilton building, Auditorium

Description

Supporting your child’s ability to share their wants, needs, and desires can be one of the most challenging and important steps in parenting a child with complex needs, especially if they have Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). This presentation will review the total communication approach to Augmentative-Alternative Communication (AAC) and the Communication Bill of Rights, and will share case study examples of students with CVI exercising their rights to communicate.

Meet the presenter

Keynote

Robbin Clark, Curriculum & Instruction Specialist

Robbin Clark is the Curriculum & Instruction Specialist at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind, specializing in the Expanded Core Curriculum. She has been in the field for 2 decades, half of which have been at USDB. Prior to her role as Curriculum & Instruction Specialist, Robbin served as the Expanded Core Curriculum Coordinator.

Robbin is passionate about supporting teachers, partnering in learning with students and empowering parents, and she believes in 21st century efficacious, rigorous Expanded Core instruction for students of all abilities. 

Fall foliage with Howe Tower in background

Traveling to Perkins

Perkins is located in Watertown, MA, just 20 minutes from downtown Boston and Logan International Airport, and only 10 minutes from Harvard Square.

Driving and public transport

Directions to Perkins, public transportation information, and a campus map can be found on our visit Perkins webpage.

Hotel discount

We’re excited to offer a hotel block with the Hampton Inn & Suites Watertown Boston at a discounted rate of $249/night for a King Room and $269/night for a two Queen room. And it’s less than a mile from our campus!

Deadline: March 28, 2024

How to reserve: Book using the custom reservation link or call 617-926-0005.

Amenities and location: Hotel amenities include a free breakfast and access to the hotel fitness center. The Hampton Inn is located in the new Arsenal Yards shopping center, neighboring several shops, and restaurants for your enjoyment.

Download the app

We’re thrilled to announce that the Early Connections Conference now has an app! You will be able to view sessions live, create your own schedule, access session and exhibitor resources, receive immediate conference updates, and more!

How to download: Instructions are on the Early Connections Conference vFairs page.

How to login: Closer to the conference date, we will email registered participants with login instructions.

Questions about the app? Email us at [email protected]

A closeup of two balloons featuring the Early Connections Conference logo.

Become an exhibitor or sponsor

Exhibitor application

Exhibitor benefits includes a table in person and on the conference app, logo in the program, and printed materials included in conference tote bags.

The regular exhibitor fee is $375, and the nonprofit exhibitor fee is $275.

Sponsorship packages

We have four sponsorship packages available.

Contact us for more information and to become a sponsor.

What are people saying about the Early Connections Conference?

Parent

“It’s always great to listen to tips on making learning more accessible for our kiddos. I always enjoy hearing from the other parents’ perspective – it is extremely powerful!”

Educator

“I love the opportunity to hear from other professionals in the field! I especially enjoyed when [the CVI moms] shared their journey. I found this so inspiring. ”

Parent

“What I liked most about this conference is the knowledge that I’m taking away that will help my daughter.”

Explore the 2023 sessions

It’s never too early to get started with the Expanded Core Curriculum!

This presentation will include a review of the expanded core curriculum components with an emphasis on the notion that it is never too early to get started! We will explore how the ECC is embedded into experiences and opportunities provided through Outreach Programs at Perkins (Outreach provides extracurricular skill-building residential and day programs for students ages 7-22), but more so, how the ECC can be incorporated within regular routines within the home setting, right now and in the future.

Audience

Parents, teachers, and caregivers of children of any age, as the sentiment of fostering individualized independence is pertinent throughout childhood and beyond.

Meet the presenters

Data shows that students who start using technology early are more likely to be independent and have more post-school opportunities.

Many students with visual impairments are often “college eligible” but not “college ready”, so come learn about the technology available, the laws surrounding assistive technology, importance around assessments, and the skills needed to ensure success that you can start NOW!

This session will provide an overview of technology available for students who are visually impaired while stressing the importance of getting children exposed and assessed in technology as young as possible.

Audience

The skills and technology that will be discussed have a focus towards academic and functional use, but we welcome all families to join!

Meet the presenters

CVI impacts all parts of a child’s development and learning.

Understanding the CVI visual behaviors, how they impact your child and supporting those access needs will create optimal learning in the home, the first and most frequently

Audience

Parents, teachers, and caregivers of children of any age.

Meet the presenter

This presentation includes the results of a narrative review regarding the ways in which cochlear implants can mediate the access to language and forming of peer relationships.

It focuses on how cochlear implants bridge the gap between the hearing and deaf worlds, specifically regarding their impact on school aged children. Future directions are included, as well as variables that affected the data and overall takeaways regarding the linguistic and social development of cochlear implant users.

Audience

All are welcome, but applies most to families and professionals who work with children ages 3-18, who are deaf/deafblind who use cochlear implants in the classroom setting.

Meet the presenter

Sensory loss has an impact on the development of children from infancy to school age.

This presentation will discuss the development of a child from infancy to school-age and the impact that sensory loss has on development. The presentation will expand on the importance and need for team collaboration and strategies to support the child. The goal is to understand that the child needs a cohesive team to lessen the impact of vision loss and other impairments, and how the Expanded Core Curriculum can support this.

Audience

Birth to school age.

Meet the presenter

Analyze the breakdown of the IEP process that children go through.

We will bring to light how parents/caregivers can effectively navigate through that process to allow them to hit the ground running once their child becomes eligible. Special considerations for children with vision impairment and who are deafblind will be highlighted.

Audience

All ages

Meet the presenter

During this hands-on presentation, participants will learn how a person with a visual impairment navigates different environments.

We will discuss what a white cane is, what it symbolizes, different types as well how cane skills are taught. Participants will learn what a human guide is and how to provide it as well as trailing and protective skills. Participants will have the opportunity to practice these techniques under vision shades/simulators.

Parents, teachers, and caregivers of children of any age, as the sentiment of fostering individualized independence is pertinent throughout childhood and beyond.

Audience

All ages

Meet the presenter

This inviting and interactive presentation is geared toward parents looking for affordable and accessible options for creating simple but meaningful modifications to their homes, making the space more accessible for everyone.

Using common household items found at local dollar stores, parents and caregivers will leave the presentation excited and equipt to put these ideas into place – and will notice the increase in their child’s ability to interact and grow in independence around the home. From the kitchen to the bathroom, no room will be left unscathed!

Audience

Families with children 5 years old + looking for affordable and accessible modifications to their home.

Meet the presenter

APE can expand your child’s world.

This session will include an overview of early childhood adapted physical education (APE), concept development in APE and how APE ties into the expanded core curriculum. This session will also community resources for recreation in the area.

Audience

Most relevant to 3-7 years old but can be made relevant for all ages.

Meet the presenters

This presentation will include the personal experiences of the presenter, Lacey Smith, as it relates to navigating the medical system with her daughter, Savannah, who has complex medical needs and a diagnosis of Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI).

Lacey will share her journey with Savannah across the years, sharing examples of how the medical system was navigated to ensure continued exceptional care for Savannah as her diagnoses continued. Some of the ‘takeaways’ will include; advocacy, challenges and how they were overcome, and guiding points for parents/professionals.

Audience

Birth to 7 years old.

Meet the presenter

Disability parenting is hard, and that’s an understatement.

Let’s get real about all the challenges we face raising a child with CVI, both systematically and emotionally. We’ll dive into resources from CVI Now that will support your CVI learning and advocacy, and summarize actionable ideas for the everyday. Rachel will also discuss the current CVI landscape, synthesizing research, what we’re learning from people with CVI, and promising practices for creating access.

Audience

Any and all!

Meet the presenter

Addressing social skills is a required component of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) for individuals who are visually impaired.

In this workshop, the presenter will share strategies and techniques to best facilitate social development for young children who are diagnosed with Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI). The presenter will address areas of consideration, including the implications of CVI as it relates to common difficulties with attention to faces, facial recognition, understanding facial expressions, and body language.

Audience

Birth to 14 years old.

Meet the presenter

The idea of “fun” can often be forgotten in the chaos of medical appointments, paperwork, and the stress of worrying for your baby when you are raising a child who has special needs.

We will discuss the importance of finding fun and playing, especially through hands-on play, for children with visual impairment. We’ll talk about incorporating play into the day, communicating through connecting with your child, turning your recycling into sensory toys, and adapting commercial toys for use with switches. Participants will create a make and take toy using common household items. Our main focus will be on how important it is to find the magical moments when you can connect with your child, and how those can happen any time if you are present for them.

Audience

This presentation is appropriate for caregivers of infants and toddlers with visual and multiple impairments, developmental delay, and sensory needs. It is geared toward all skill levels in this age range.

Meet the presenter

The goal is to create FUN play opportunities for the child to actively participate as independently as possible, improve their endurance, strength, and body control, and to help them move through the gross motor developmental progression.

This presentation will discuss the gross motor developmental progression from initiating tummy time through standing activities, whether standing without help or using a support or a device like a walker or stander. The presentation will cover the benefits and ideal positioning in tummy time, sitting on the floor, kneeling, and standing, as appropriate for the child. The presenters will also give examples of play activities for each position, using environmental modifications that are readily available or easily DIY’d, to make the most out of the time in that position.

Audience

This presentation is appropriate for caregivers of children of any age whose gross motor skills are up to about 12 months developmentally, which means children who are not yet walking independently (with or without a device). For children with delayed motor skills, their developmental age will not correspond to their chronological age.

Meet the presenters

This presentation aims to provide a comprehensive overview of working with children with disabilities from the perspectives of a parent, special educator, and program developer.

The presenters will share their personal experiences and insights, including practices and approaches that have proven effective in their respective regions. The parent’s perspective will provide a personal account of raising a child with vision impairment. The talk will cover the challenges faced in early childhood and the strategies that were adapted to enable the child’s transformation into an independent adult with notable achievements. The parent will also reflect on personal experience in supporting other families to raise awareness, acceptance, and access for the visually impaired community. The special educator’s perspective will focus on the practices and approaches used in the Philippines to provide guidance and support to families as they navigate the special education system and provide the best possible care for their child. The program developer will discuss the importance of building a network with key stakeholders in a child’s life and the value of staying connected with each of them, based on practices that have been successful in India.

Audience

Anyone and everyone!

Meet the presenters

Paths to Literacy is a website designed for teachers, families, and others interested in literacy for children and youth with visual impairments, including those who are deafblind and/or have multiple disabilities.

The presentation will introduce the audience to the thousands of articles, lessons, and tools available to learners. We will break down the microsites and focus on early literacy.

Audience

Since this website has materials relevant to all student age groups, all are welcome and can learn from the resources specific to their student’s developmental age and needs.

Meet the presenter

Ever heard of music therapy?

In this presentation, we will explain what music therapy services are all about and how engaging in musical activities with your children can connect to the goals and growth points found in the Expanded Core Curriculum. This presentation will be more experiential than didactic, so come ready to experience the music that you can explore and enjoy with your child/children. Along with demonstrations, we will provide video examples of work that will help illustrate the power of musical engagement to help children grow!

Audience

This presentation will apply to children in the age levels birth through 7, with a wide variety of skills and interests as well as developmental and physical abilities.

Meet the presenters

All babies, including babies who are blind, visually impaired, or deafblind, learn about the world through experiences and routines with their families.

In this workshop, we will explore how a parent coaching model engages families to learn the skills and strategies to support the development of infants and toddlers with visual impairments, identify techniques for successful coaching, and explore ways to incorporate technology to increase opportunities for parent coaching and family participation. Parent coaching and modeling is a critical component of Early Intervention practice. This presentation aims to provide examples and strategies of parent coaching to support children with visual impairments and students with multiple disabilities in the home and in the school environments. The presentation also incorporates technology through the use of virtual visits to support parent coaching.

Audience

Families with children from birth to 3 years old.

Meet the presenter

Executive functioning skills begin to develop early in a child’s life, and include elements such as emotional regulation, task initiation and working memory.

Students with strong executive functioning skills often naturally develop them, while other students benefit from explicit instruction. These key skills are often learned incidentally by many children. However, for children with visual impairments, cues may be missed. Being intentionally and explicitly instructed about skills such as time management, organization and categorization can help children gain academic and personal independence in school, at home and throughout life. Join Leslie Thatcher, Director of College Success@Perkins, and an Executive Functioning coach, to learn how you can support your child now and in the future.

Audience

Families with children from 3 years to adulthood.

Meet the presenter

Recordings from past sessions

Get a sense of the expertise and insight available at the Early Connections Conference. Browse past sessions for best practices, advice, and action plans from some of the best in early education for children with vision impairment.

Inclusion and access are our priority.

We strive to host inclusive, accessible events that enable all individuals to engage fully, including those with disabilities.

For questions or to request accommodations at the Early Connections Conference, please contact our team today.