Early Connections Conference 2019

A little boy wearing glasses and a young girl stand in front of a tub of water playing while their mother looks on.

Early Connections Conference

April 27, 2019

Perkins School for the Blind

Watertown, MA

April 27, 2019 - 8:00am to 3:00pm
Lower School
United States
175 North Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472

Cost: $45

Growing Together

Early Bird Registration is now open!

It takes a village to support a family. Join us at the 36th annual Early Connections conference this spring to learn and build relationships to grow your community of support. Now through February 28, you can save $10 while securing your spot.

Register now and save »

Download Paper Registration – English version »

Download Paper Registration – Spanish version »

Activities and childcare will be provided by counselors who will be assigned according to each child’s age, disability and special considerations. 

Make sure to check here for updates as we get closer to the conference.

General Information

An infant plays in a ball pit.Join us at the Early Connections Conference! We invite parents and professionals throughout New England to network, share ideas and strategies for helping children with visual impairments from birth to age 7.

For the past 36 years this unique conference has fostered communities and offered a wealth of resources for families like yours. 

Activities and childcare will be provided by counselors who will be assigned according to each child’s age, disability and special considerations.

If there is a last-minute change of plans regarding your child’s attendance, or if you would prefer to bring your own sitter, please call Sharon Stelzer at 617-972-7696 or email Sharon.Stelzer@Perkins.org to leave a detailed message.

Questions? Please call Teri Turgeon at 617-972-7331 or email Teri.Turgeon@Perkins.org.

Families wishing for assistance in arranging overnight accommodations should contact Vincent Pagano at 617-972-7432 or email Vincent.Pagano@Perkins.org no later than April 23, 2018. A limited number of rooms are available on campus on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Early Connections Conference will be held in Watertown on Perkins' campus.  Perkins will provide free child care and lunch for attendees.


One family registration includes up to six adults, four children, lunch, and free childcare with Perkins counselors during all sessions.

Register Now »

Ticket Types

  • Exclusive Registration - Open to those who RSVP, one week only!
    January 11 - January 20
    Cost: $30

  • Early Bird Registration
    January 21 - February 28
    Cost: $35

  • Regular Registration
    March 1 - April 22
    Cost: $45

Download Paper Registration – English version »

Download Paper Registration – Spanish version »

2019 Agenda


Doors open - vendors open all day

8:15 - 9:00AM

Registration and coffee/networking
Childcare drop-off


Welcome (Auditorium)

9:15AM - 10:30AM

AM Sessions

10:30 - 11:30AM 

Support groups


Childcare pick-up for lunch

11:45 - 12:30PM


12:45 - 2:00PM 

PM sessions

2:00 - 3:15PM

Keynote (Auditorium)


End of day - childcare pick-up


AM Sessions

Advocacy: Building an effective team
Tom Miller, Educational Consultant

Effective advocacy is based upon building an effective team that shares common goals and beliefs about your child and their potential. The goal of advocacy is to assure that your child receives the appropriate supports to learn and be part of his/her class/school environment. This interactive session will offer perspectives on how to effectively advocate by using your child’s IFSP/IEP and building a team of providers.

Come and play with me: A guide to play-based activities and adapted physical education
Maebh Barry, Adapted Physical Education Teacher at Perkins School for the Blind
Megan O’Connell-Copp, Teacher at Perkins School for the Blind

Presenters will discuss modifications and adaptations for play and equipment, along with benefits of movement for motor development. Other topics covered in the session will be legalities of adapted physical education and what your child is eligible for once they reach school age. This interactive presentation will feature pictures and videos of adapted physical education classes and hands-on learning.

Conscious teaching practices for deafblind
Susan DeCaluwe, Itinerant Teacher of the Deafblind

This presentation will explore the established theories of preeminent leaders in the field of deafblind education. Specifically, speaker Susan DeCaluwe will examine how those theories have impacted the way we teach children who are blind, deafblind or low vision with and without additional disabilities, as well as how we integrate cognition, communication, social relationships and environment building in that process.

Financial planning for two generations
Alexandria Nadworny, Special Needs Financial Planning Specialist at Shepherd Financial Partners

Many children with a disability must be supported their entire lives, often long after their parents have passed. As a result, special needs financial planning can mean planning for two generations. This presentation will reach beyond the limited boundaries of wills and trusts to provide you with a road map to address your own family’s special needs, highlighting the various planning pressure points where parents should be aware of changes relating to their child’s benefits, as well as legal and other financial issues along the way. Learn more at SpecialNeedsPlanning.com.

Orientation and mobility for early learners
Chris Brosnahan, TVI/COMS at Perkins School for the Blind
Jess Pratt, Orientation and Mobility Specialist at Perkins School for the Blind

What does O&M for children aged 0-3 look like? Presenters will focus on skills and techniques taught to infants and toddlers, specifically spatial concepts, texture awareness, pre-canes and canes.

Student panel - hear from the experts!

Participants will hear from a student-led panel made up of middle and high school students who attend public schools. They will share their first-hand experiences, hopes and dreams, and what they think parents should know to support their own child. This session will allow for questions, so come prepared to ask what you’ve always wanted to know.


PM Sessions

AAC for young children with vision impairment and multiple disabilities
Amelia Willcox, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist at Perkins School for the Blind
Erin Calder, CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist at Perkins School for the Blind

This session will discuss a variety of assistive and alternative communication (AAC) supports for toddlers and young children. Low tech, mid tech and high tech systems will be discussed, including the use of symbols, exchange systems, core language, switches and voice output devices, as well as how to incorporate total communication strategies to help children more effectively and clearly express their wants, needs and ideas. In addition to devices, this session will give information about how AAC supports the development of receptive, expressive and pragmatic (social) language skills.

Dads only
Dr. Jerry Petroff, Professor of Special Education, Language and Literacy at The College of New Jersey

This break-out session will report the most recent research on a father’s role in development and learning of children with visual impairments. In addition to survival tips, a confidential discussion/ focus group of fathers or male parental figures will be conducted. A safe place to express yourself regarding your single or co-parental male role will be provided. No women allowed.

Getting ready for school: Developing an IEP
Brenda Allair, Coordinator for Infant Toddler, Community Programs at Perkins School for the Blind
Jessica Brown, Assistant Education Director, Community Programs, Perkins School for the Blind

This session will walk parents through the initial IEP process, with a focus on children with visual impairment along with additional disabilities. Learn what to know, what to ask for and what to bring to your child’s first IEP meeting.

Misdiagnoses of CVI
Ellen Mazel, M.Ed, CTVI, CVI Project Manager at Perkins School for the Blind

CVI is poorly understood by medical and educational professionals. Due to this misunderstanding, students with CVI are often diagnosed with autism or ADHD and their vision needs are never met. Learn to better understand and advocate for your child with CVI.

Person-Centered Planning: An effective transition planning process for all students
Betsy Bixler, Educational Programs Project Manager at Perkins School for the Blind

This session will address the philosophy and practice of person-centered planning as a tool for families and teams to assist in the development of individualized home, school and community programs and services to enhance the transition from setting to setting. The guidebook Reach for the Stars, Planning for the Future: A Process for Planning Positive Transitions for Young Children with Disabilities will be discussed.

How Perkins can help you and your child
Amy Ferreira, Director of Enrollment at Perkins School for the Blind

Amazing work is done every day on campus at Perkins. This presentation will detail the efforts led by Perkins staff off school grounds, covering educational partnerships, outreach programs, evaluations and more.

Keynote Speaker

Dr. Jerry G. Petroff

Dr. Petroff is a Professor at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) School of Education in the Department of Special Education, Language and Literacy.  His experience working on behalf of students, youth and adults with disabilities and their families spans several decades. Holding a doctorate in psychological studies in special education and a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology, he has developed expertise in inclusive education, early communication, social network development, assistive technology (augmentative and alternative communication), and the transition of students with disabilities from school to adult life.  Dr. Petroff’s specific focus for the past 40 years has been in the area of development and education of infants, children and youth with deafblindness. In addition, Dr. Petroff is the Executive Director of TCNJ's Center for Sensory & Complex Disabilities and Faculty Director of the Career & Community Studies Program at TCNJ.

Parent Responsibilities

Parents play with their daughter in a ball pit.Childcare is provided for free to all parent or guardian registrants. Any parent or guardian taking advantage of childcare must provide the following:

  • A written schedule for your child's medications, meals, naps, and any other special instructions.
  • Administration of all your child's medications and management of G-tube feedings.
  • Labeling your child's clothes, toys, and/or special equipment.
  • Any special equipment (stroller, porta-crib, highchair, wheelchair, etc.) and food or feeding equipment that may help your child feel more comfortable.

Kitchen areas will be available for you to heat foods. Emergency number on the day of the conference is the Administrator for Emergency Coverage hotline (617) 201-7512.


Directions by car

Exit the Massachusetts Turnpike (traveling east or west) at Exit 17. Follow signs marked “Watertown,” leading to Galen St. Follow Galen St, crossing bridge to Watertown Square. Bear right (not the hardest right along the river) onto North Beacon St. (Rte. 20). Follow North Beacon St. for about one-half mile to the Perkins campus on the right. Pass the campus entrance and turn right at the light onto Beechwood Ave. Parking lot is on the right.

Directions by public transportation

From the Green Line/Kenmore Station, take Bus #57/Watertown to the last stop, Watertown Yard. Cross the bridge and keep right, following North Beacon St. (Rte. 20). Campus is one-half mile on the right. (About 1 hour)From the Red Line/Harvard Square, take Bus #71/Watertown to the last stop, Watertown Square. With your back to the river, walk to the right following North Beacon St. (Rte. 20). See above. (About 45 minutes)Or, from Green St. and Prospect St. in Central Square, take Bus #70, usually marked “Waltham.” Shortly after the Arsenal Mall, get off at Beechwood St. (tell driver in advance). Follow Beechwood St. to the left for one block. Campus is on the right across the street from Beechwood and North Beacon St. (About 45 minutes)

Event Date: 
April 27, 2019 - 8:00am to 3:00pm
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