Early Connections Virtual Conference

Text: Early Connections Conference 2021 - In This Together! Photo: Young girl sits in her wheelchair alongside her father.

Early Connections Conference

May 1, 2021


May 1, 2021 - 10:00am to 4:00pm
United States
175 North Beacon Street
Watertown, MA 02472

Cost: Free

Thank you for joining Perkins' 38th Early Connections Conference!

We hope you gained new insights and strategies during our virtual conference. Our goal is to ensure you have the knowledge, skills and support you need to help each child reach their full potential. Watch recordings of each of the sessions below, check out our resource guide, and share your feedback in our survey.


The Early Connections Virtual 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 that apply at home and in the classroom to help each child reach their full potential.

While this year looked a little different -- we’re in this together. We know how important this event is in building connections and community. This year's Early Connections Conference covered topics such as:

  • Active Learning
  • Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI)
  • Early Intervention Today
  • Feeding & Mealtime Considerations
  • Infant Toddler TeleHealth
  • Total Communication


Keynote: I can do hard things
Speaker: Rachel Bennett, M.Ed., CVI Certificate, Content & Community Manager at CVI Now

Raising a child with CVI and other needs continues to show me that I can do hard things (whether I believe I can or not). As parents of children with a different normal, we are thrown into this arena of uncertainty and vulnerability. We are put on a journey that requires a lot of personal growth. And that’s really hard. As I share my CVI journey, I’ll also talk about the specific moments and people that helped me along the way, as well as what I wish I had advocated for, knowing what I know now.

About Rachel Bennett: Rachel Bennett is the Content and Community Manager for CVINow.org, which Perkins launched last year as a resource for families of children with CVI. She is also a CVI Mom. Rachel intimately knows the struggles, fears, joys and precious moments of hope that come with raising a child with a complex visual impairment and complex needs. There’s a lot to figure out and she constantly thinks about how to provide her son, Henry, with a multisensory approach to accessing his world. A life-long learner about CVI and neuroscience, Rachel is committed to advocating for better outcomes for kids with CVI. Prior to joining Perkins, Rachel was a special educator and curriculum specialist. Learn more about Rachel here.

Read Q&A

VIDEO: “Early intervention today”
Speaker: Dr. Linda Lawrence, Pediatric Ophthalmologist and consultant at the Kansas State School for the Blind

Babies’ low vision needs are different than adults, especially those with additional disabilities. The ophthalmologist can help in the early identification of babies with suspected visual impairment and refer the family to a team to start interventions at a very early age.

About Dr. Lawrence: Dr. Linda Lawrence, MD specializes in Early Intervention, pediatric low vision and multiple disabilities. She has a solo ophthalmology practice in Salina, KS and is a consultant for the Kansas State School for the Blind. She is past chair of the AAPOS committee on Pediatric Low Vision Rehabilitation, which focuses on children with MDVI and neuro-developmental delays, and a member of the AAO committee on Low Vision Rehabilitation.

Read Q&A

VIDEO: “Infant toddler tele-health”
Speakers: Teri Turgeon, M.Ed., Head of the Infant Toddler Program and Brenda Allair, M.Ed., TVI, Infant Toddler Coordinator, Community Programs at Perkins School for the Blind

When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and schools and programs closed, we needed to reimagine what our Infant Toddler Program would look like and how we would continue to successfully serve children and families across Massachusetts.

Leveraging a pilot program, developed the year before, we worked to quickly pivot and scale the pilot into a statewide program. Early on, we partnered with a neutral third party data collector because we wanted the opportunity to reflect back on our effectiveness and work to ensure a way to incorporate this remote model of parent coaching into our practices moving forward, as well as move our parent child groups into virtual parent groups, enabling us to serve more families from geographical areas often unable to access Perkins on campus programming.

Participants/attendees will learn what the early pilot was based on, the efforts to scale the program, what parents say about the experience and what our data has shown us. They will view video samples of home visiting remotely and learn the key elements to a parent coaching methodology.

As we hopefully move back to an in person resumption of home visiting soon in Early Intervention, learn how these new methods will be with us in our practice and will now be an integral part of our Infant Toddler program.

About Teri Turgeon: Since 2014, Teri Turgeon has served as Education Director of Community Programs. Turgeon provides leadership to Perkins programs in the community: Early Intervention, Educational Partnerships, and Outreach programming. Turgeon previously served as the Assistant Director of Community Programs until 2012. She also brings a wealth of hands-on experience to the role. She worked as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired in our Educational Partnerships Program for four years, serving a wide variety of populations. She is also the parent of a young adult who is blind. Turgeon has a master’s degree in special education from the University of Massachusetts, and a B.A. in psychology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

About Brenda Allair: Brenda Allair is the Infant Toddler Coordinator with Community Programs at Perkins. She is a licensed Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments and began working at Perkins in the fall of 2009 as an itinerant teacher serving students in Western Massachusetts. Brenda has worked in the field of Early Intervention for over 15 years and is dedicated to supporting and empowering families of infants and toddlers with visual impairments.

Read Q&A

VIDEO: “Total communication for young deafblind learners”
Speaker: Megan Connaughton, M.Ed. and Amanda Toczylowski, M.Ed., teachers in the Deafblind Preschool Program at Perkins School for the Blind

In this session we will explore the Total Communication learning environment in a Deafblind preschool classroom. We will discuss the philosophy of Total Communication, and how we naturally embed different communication methods across activities to accommodate each learner. Various real life examples including pictures, videos and student materials will be shared.

About Megan Connaughton: Megan Connaughton is a teacher in the Deafblind Preschool Program at Perkins School for the Blind. She holds a Master’s of Education Degree from Boston College in Severe and Multiple Disabilities with a concentration in Deafblindness. Megan’s interests in the field include early literacy and strategies and adaptations for students with additional physical disabilities.

About Amanda Toczylowski: Amanda Toczylowski is a teacher in the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for the Blind. Amanda holds a Master’s Degree as a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments. Amanda’s interests in the field include early braille skills, total communication and creating adaptations for young learners.

Read Q&A

VIDEO: “Active learning”
Speaker: Theresa Johnson, OT, MSOT, OTR, Occupational Therapist in the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for the Blind



This workshop is designed to provide an introduction to the key principles of Active Learning and to offer strategies on how to begin using an Active Learning approach with your child at home. It will include a brief history of Active Learning, introductory explanations of the 5 key points of Active Learning, and suggestions on how to choose appropriate learning materials and activities for your child.

About Theresa Johnson: Theresa Johnson is a registered, licensed occupational therapist at Perkins School for the Blind. She has many years of experience working in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, and a child development clinic. She currently works with students ranging from 3 to 22 years of age in the Deafblind Program at Perkins. Theresa has completed several training programs in Active Learning over the past 5 years.

VIDEO: “Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI): Addressing visual skill development within play-based activities and natural routines”
Speaker: Marguerite Tibaudo, M.Ed., TVI, Deafblind Specialist, CVI Certificate, Assistant Director, CVI Now at Perkins School for the Blind

This presenter will discuss the importance of addressing visual skill development through motivating play-based activities and naturally occurring routines. The information provided will blend promising practices from the field of CVI and evidence-based practice surrounding early childhood development.

About Marguerite Tibaudo: Marguerite has more than 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 are 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. Learn more about Marguerite.

VIDEO: “Feeding & mealtime considerations”
Speaker: Elizabeth Torrey, Speech and Language Pathologist, Assistant Education Director at the Early Learning Center and Lower School at Perkins School for the Blind

Most children experience difficulty with eating at some point, but when should caregivers become concerned? This presentation will review factors that influence the development of feeding and mealtime skills and will provide strategies for improving those skills.

About Elizabeth Torrey: Elizabeth Torrey, M.S., CCC-SLP, is the Assistant Education Director in the Early Learning Center and Lower School programs at Perkins School for the Blind, and last year’s ECC emcee. As a speech and language pathologist for the last 25 years, Elizabeth focuses on developing communication and feeding skills in students experiencing vision impairment or blindness with or without other disabilities. She has developed and taught workshops nationally and internationally for teachers, related service providers and parents on a range of topics: communication development, feeding and mealtime skill development, professional collaboration, calendar systems, tangible symbol use, echolalia, creation of learning environments and how to incorporate parents into educational teams.

Read Q&A

VIDEO: “Parent partnerships: Understanding the visual behaviors of CVI”
Speaker: Ellen Mazel, M.Ed., TVI, Deafblind Specialist, Director, CVI Now at Perkins School for the Blind

Each child’s unique CVI manifestations are based on the location impacted in the brain, based on how that unique brain learns and rewires and based on the unique visual experiences of that child. Every tool for the accurate assessment of children with CVI depends heavily in parent/caregiver information. Parents hold vital information about their child’s visual skills across the day, across multiple kinds of environments and across their child’s lifetime. This presentation will explore that essential partnership and help illustrate how the parent information supports all the CVI assessment areas.

About Ellen Mazel: 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). 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. She teaches CVI: Assessment and Education, a mandatory class for training Teachers of the Visually Impaired (TVIs), Orientation and Mobility (O&M) specialists and Vision Rehabilitation Specialists in the Vision Studies graduate programs at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Learn more about Ellen Mazel.

Read Q&A

Questions about the event? Contact us at EarlyConnections@Perkins.org.

Please note: Professional development opportunities are available here.

Engage with us! Follow us on social media and use the hashtag #EarlyCC to engage with our team.

Artemis Yoga Watertown logoCVI Now, Perkins School for the Blind logoPerkins Library logo

Event Date: 
May 1, 2021 - 10:00am to 4:00pm
Add to Calendar