Registration Now Open for April 19 In-Person Day.

The April 19th conference day takes place on the campus of LaGuardia Community College, E Building, in Long Island City, Queens, NY.

There are no virtual sessions on April 19th.

April 19th Agenda

Below are the sessions planned for our full in-person conference day. 

8:30 AM     Check in / Breakfast

9:30 AM     Welcome and Opening Remarks

Name Description
Welcome and Opening Remarks

Dr. Regina Varin-Mignano, LCSW-R, Manager, Health and Wellness Education and Grant Development, LaGuardia Community College

Dr. Alexis J. McLean, Vice President for Student Affairs, LaGuardia Community College

Dr. Denise B. Maybank, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, CUNY

10:10 AM     Concurrent Workshop Sessions - Block 1

Name Description
Innovations in Pedagogical Approaches for the Support of Neurodiverse Students and the Promotion of Mental Health Awareness

Presenters: Marcella Pizzo, Ph.D., LMHC, Adelphi University and Nicholas Giampetruzzi, LMHC, NCC, Kingsborough Community College

There is an ongoing debate among scholars about the best pedagogical practices for neurodiverse college students (Gobbo et al., 2019; Griffiths, 2020; Shmulsky et al., 2022). Further, pedagogical interventions are part of a broader conceptualization of creating inclusive spaces for neurodiverse college students (Brandsen et al., 2024; Dwyer et al., 2024; Wilson & Dallman, 2024). Neurodiverse students in higher education face various challenges that can impact their mental health and academic performance (Clouder et al., 2020; Gillespie-Lynch, 2017). Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an effective approach to pedagogy (Capp, 2017; Edyburn, 2005). We present the use of a (UDL) approach guided by differentiated instruction tools (Birnie, 2017) to address the needs of diverse learners. We will discuss using scaffolded journal prompts within the context of the course lectures to successfully enhance critical thinking and reflective practices. This employs a strengths-based approach to learning as students can choose to explore a topic or prompt that resonates with them. Similarly, we present an incentive (green ribbon – extra credit assignment) for students to promote interpersonal skills, build connections and address mental health stigma. This presentation seeks to engage participants in a critical discussion about ways to support the needs of neurodiverse students. Similarly, the presenters will share best practices to develop inclusive activities that will add to the promotion of positive outcomes for the equity of neurodiverse students.

Music, Altruism and Wellness!

Presenters: Sue Carpenter, arts educator and Associate Professor, Education program, and Michael Lettman, advocate for the autistic community and alum, Melissa Riggio Higher Education Program, Kingsborough Community College

Navigating wellness can be challenging in a world that is in turmoil, fast paced, competitive, and ‘selfie-centric’! For those who have lived experience of neurodiversity these factors can be particularly stressful. This presentation will explore how to reduce stress through the vehicle of music and altruism.

Participants will gain:

  1. An understanding of the power of altruism
  2. An understanding of the research and philosophy of John Diamond MD (as well as Kohn and Curwin) in relation to music, intrinsic rewards and altruism
  3. Confidence in their innate musical ability
  4. Hands-on experiential opportunity to use music to help others
  5. Have tools to reduce stress through music beyond the workshop/ presentation

Participants will have a chance to contribute to the discussion and also have the opportunity to sing with and for others. No experience or perceived talent is needed at all to benefit from this presentation!

Supporting college students and their mental health through guided decision making: Applying the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) values clarification strategies to real life decisions

Presenters: Candice Baugh, MA, LMHC and Katie McDermott, MSE, MEd, McDermott Autism Services, LLC Private Practice

Since school disruptions in 2020, college students have been reporting more symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as somatic symptoms (Nails et al., 2023). As a result, many colleges have an increased demand for wellness supports and preventing worsening mental health. In addition, a major aspect of mood disorders is disordered and difficulty with decision making, a primary skill required to successfully navigate college. People with neurodivergent brains can also struggle with executive functioning. We recommend that academic, counseling and support services staff use tools from the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) (Wehmeyer et al., 2011) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) values clarification strategies (Eifert & Forsyth, 2005) to enable students to make decisions in their best interests both academically and in consideration of their personal life dreams. Student groups could also use the ACT Life Compass worksheet or SDLMI worksheets on their own to help support each other. We will teach and practice using both tools to help students make sound decisions which play to their strengths and point them in personally meaningful directions. Supporting students with this skill is a best practice not only for navigating college but also for planning the transition to careers.

The Unique Mental Health Struggles and Strengths of ADHD Adults in the Pursuit of a Doctoral Degree: Preliminary Findings from My PhD Dissertation Research-in-Progress

Presenter: Lisa Joy Tuttle, MA, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA, and University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA

For learners with ADHD, the educational arena is often a significant area of struggle due to the psychobiological aspects of ADHD, its societal stigmatization, and structural barriers. As these students progress into higher education, they frequently report high levels of stress, perfectionism, and difficulties with emotion regulation potentially leading to overwhelm and burnout. For those pursuing an advanced degree—where an independent focus and little outside structure are the norm—social isolation, frustration accessing adequate supports within and outside their academic institutions, and the stressors of striving to conform to neuro-normative expectations may put learners’ mental health at risk and derail their academic and career prospects. This interactive session will present emergent findings from the facilitator’s PhD dissertation research-in-process exploring the struggles and strengths of 30 ADHD adults who have attained a doctoral degree or who are currently engaged in a doctoral program. The study, which was sparked by and incorporates the presenter’s lived experience, is the first to have been undertaken by a neurodivergent researcher with the aims of increasing the representation of neurodivergent students in doctoral programs and strengthening professional praxis. Attendees will come away with (a) a heightened appreciation of the challenges, resources, and capacities of neurodivergent scholars, (b) applicable strength-based approaches that are revealed in the research; (c) inspiration to persist in higher education, and (d) suggested adjustments that institutions of higher learning might make to support the mental well-being and success of this talented group. Keywords: ADHD, advanced degree, expertise-by-experience, qualitative research

11:10 AM     Concurrent Workshop Sessions - Block 2

Name Description
Acting is a Brain Changer

Presenter: Ellen Mareneck, Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, Bronx Community College

There have been studies investigating the connection between theatre (acting) and changes in the brain in neurodiverse children and adults. Recent findings indicate that theatre exercises and acting skills can improve social functioning. Actors perceive through another's eyes (role playing), engage with others, express their thoughts and feelings, and take risks. (It's also a helluva lot of fun.) Let this 50 minute workshop be a safe place to explore your senses and light up your creativity through exercises, role-play, and improvisation.

Integrating Mental Health and Wellness in Internships: Strategies for Autistic Individuals

Presenters: Haley Shibble and a panel of TKU Creative interns, Tech Kids Unlimited

Feeling good fosters productivity, making a positive work environment the ultimate goal. However, autistic individuals often face challenges managing their mental health and well-being at work and may not always feel supported or included in the workplace. This presentation will explore the integration of mental health and wellness in internship programs, focusing on creating inclusive and accessible opportunities for autistic individuals. Led by a neurodiverse panel of interns aged 17-24, the discussion will draw from their experiences in the Creative Tech Internship (CTI) program at Tech Kids Unlimited (TKU), a non-profit organization. CTI spans a year and centers on using social-emotional learning to cultivate soft skills, a curriculum overseen by a dedicated social worker. Recognizing the pivotal role of mental health, well-being, community, and social inclusion in work-based learning, TKU's social worker team facilitates connections to resources and support services for interns so that they can succeed. Social-emotional learning is seamlessly integrated into the program through group activities, individual check-ins, and collaborative projects, fostering a supportive and inclusive environment. This dual focus on mental health, well-being, and technical skills underscores TKU's holistic approach to development. The panel will discuss the integration of mental health and wellness in internship programs, focusing on creating inclusive opportunities for autistic individuals. We’ll share how the internship staff promotes open communication, empathy, and understanding, teaching stress management, healthy habits, resilience building, and work-life balance, benefiting interns during the program and in future workplaces.

Project CONNECT: A pilot college transition program for neurodivergent students

Presenters: Jaime Vitrano, Erin Reilly, Jenny LaMonica, Audra Cerruto, Susan Alimonti, Cari Rose-Tomo, Leigh Weilandics, and Michelle Altamurra, Molloy University

Neurodivergent students face numerous barriers when transitioning to college. Programs that help support students transitioning to college can help them academically and socially, increase skills such as self-advocacy and self-determination, and can also address the varied mental health challenges that they face. This presentation is a description of a summer college program for neurodivergent college-bound and early college students that emphasized a neuroaffirmative approach to a college education. The college transition program took place over two summers. We will describe the program and how it changed based on feedback from participants, staff, and families. One of the activities that was included in the year two summer program was a mask-making art activity led by a faculty member in the Art department. Through making masks, students explored and identified many aspects of their identity which are visible and invisible, and learned about metaphorical thinking and nuance. We will lead conference participants in this experiential, mask-making art activity, with the goals of engaging participants and sharing this activity so that it may be used successfully by others.

Recommended Practices for Neuroinclusivity

Presenter: Dr. Sonia Rahimi, Carleton University

The overarching purpose of our research is to create a targeted, yet widely adaptable, set of recommended practices that standards development professionals can use to apply a neurodivergent lens to the development of standards. Standards are used everywhere in society – such as workplaces, schools, recreation centres, healthcare, and transportation. They can be applied to guide and ensure specific levels of safety, quality, and accessibility of many areas of life as well as providing expectations on how to use products or provide services. For example, in public buildings (e.g., shopping malls/schools), some standards are having fluorescent lighting, signs for washrooms, elevators, and exits, and opening and closing hours. These standards impact how people experience and navigate the environments that they are in. However, if standards are developed without accounting for the diverse ways that neurodivergent people experience and navigate society, this can create barriers to inclusion and participation for neurodivergent people. Through consultations with the neurodivergent community, and consultations with standards development professionals, facilitators and barriers to inclusion were found. Based on these results, we are currently developing a set of recommended practices for neuroinclusion that can be applied at different stages of the standards development process. Our session will provide attendees an opportunity to discuss these topics and share their experiences and suggestions for neuroinclusion in standards development.

12:00 PM     Lunch

1:10 PM     Concurrent Workshop Sessions - Block 3

Name Description
Creating an Inclusive and Supportive Environment for Neurodivergent Students: Insights from CCSD

Presenters: Lennyn Jacob, Leonard Blades, Luis Gutierrez, Brian Flores-Geraldo, Carmen Chocolatl, and Luis "Junior" Alvarez, CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD)

Historically, society has struggled to include and understand the experiences of individuals with disabilities, especially in our neurodivergent community. Adding mental health symptomology to the mix can lead to isolation and misunderstanding. The CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities (CCSD) has recognized this challenge. Purposeful steps were taken to create a safe and inclusive environment for neurodivergent students, including those with mental health diagnoses at CUNY. Let’s explore some successful strategies CCSD has implemented to create a welcoming and supportive community for neurodivergent students, addressing identity, stigma, acceptance, and advocacy. Through one-to-one interactions, group events, virtual resources, and in-person activities, CCSD has created opportunities for students to engage in self-care practices and created a space promoting Mental Health & Wellness. One CCSD strategy is promoting self-care through social events and resources. The Virtual Toolkit, for example, is a resource connecting students to counseling services and much more. CCSD also creates a relaxing study environment through the use of music, offers fun activities like karaoke and spoken word, and engages students in turn-taking games like 25 words or less. These events and tools encourage positive self-care practices and promote social engagement and a sense of empowerment among students. We hope, that the ideas shared in this presentation will inspire others to create inclusive and supportive environments for neurodivergent individuals, particularly those living with mental health diagnoses. By fostering a sense of community and providing opportunities for self-care and social engagement, we can help to create a more inclusive and understanding society.

Getting Active: Finding Inclusion and Self-Love Through Fitness and Individual and Group Recreational Activities

Presenter: Mike Macedo, LICSW, Social Sparks, Inc., East Coast Mental Wellness

Mike is a Clinical Social Worker and Therapist, and an Autistic adult himself. Diagnosed as a child, Mike discovered the benefits of group activities and team sports when he joined his high school cross country/track teams. What followed was a sense of belonging and a lifetime love of fitness not only as a means to stay in shape, but as a therapeutic tool. Life can be hard, and being Neurodivergent can be too. Sometimes it can feel like you are alone in navigating a world not designed for you, which can feel isolating. Mike's goal is to explain how regular participation in individual and group recreational activities can foster a sense of belonging, inclusion, and self-confidence. He will demonstrate how exercise and outdoor time can be especially healing for Neurodivergent individuals who need an escape from the overstimulation of everyday life. Mike will speak personally on the subject of loneliness, and how it uniquely pertains to Neurodivergent adults. Mike will also explain the prevalence of social isolation, depression, unemployment, and burnout among the Neurodivergent Community, and why it is so important for us to feel included and accepted. Using his perspectives as both a therapist, and an Autistic man himself, Mike will share with the audience, his personal story of how running changed, (and likely saved) his life, and how it doesn't matter what your abilities are if you want to pursue an active lifestyle or join a group activity, everyone deserves to feel included and find their community.

Neurodiversity and Mental Health in the Online Disability Studies Classroom

Presenter: Andrew Marcum, PhD., Academic Director and Distinguished Lecturer for Disability Studies, CUNY School of Professional Studies

  • What are some best practices for supporting neurodiversity and mental health and wellness in the online classroom?
  • How can principles of Universal Design in Learning (UDL) facilitate meaningful forms of learning, engagement, and participation that challenge, rather than perpetuate, ableist standards of academic “rigor” and intellectual productivity?
  • How can critical disability studies scholars and writers contribute to the creation of online learning environments and pedagogies that support neurodiversity and mental health and wellness?
  • What insights from UDL and critical disability studies might be applied beyond the online classroom to include the larger university and the work, public events, and professional development spaces within it?

This presentation grapples with these questions by bringing together insights from critical disability studies and Universal Design in Learning with current understandings of the relationship between mental health and neurodiversity. Teachers, professors, course-developers, academic directors and department chairs and those in disability services interested in supporting inclusive practices would best benefit from attending this session. Anticipated benefits for attendees include: An increased understanding of disability studies and its relationship to UDL, neurodiversity, and mental health. Attainment of a basic knowledge of key UDL principles and the social model of disability. Ideas for applying UDL principles and the social model of disability in the classroom and beyond.

2:10 PM     Concurrent Workshop Sessions - Block 4

Name Description
Divergent Care: Disability-Affirming Art Therapy Program Design for Neurodivergent Children and Adolescents in Therapeutic Day Schools

Presenter: Jamisen Paustian, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

This paper is a qualitative study highlighting neurodiverse lived experience as subjugated knowledge within art therapy and provides an example of a neurodivergent-informed, disability-affirming group program in a therapeutic day school. Historically, therapeutic praxis for neurodivergent people has been created by neurotypical or nondisabled clinicians and contextualized within the medical model of disability. Presently and historically, the knowledge, expertise, and lived experiences of neurodivergent or disabled art therapists are rarely integrated into the design of therapeutic programming, nor is the input of service recipients. This project is informed by disability studies, disability justice, neurodiversity studies, disabled therapist experiences, and identity-affirming care production. As a neurodivergent clinician-in-training, the author conducted research at her fieldwork placement, where she provided art therapy group programming with neurodivergent students for eight weeks in a therapeutic day school in Chicago. This research utilizes qualitative methods to collect narratives and document interactions between students and the researcher during art therapy group sessions. It analyzes the benefits of integrating student feedback and leadership in developing therapeutic approaches alongside the therapist as ‘co-creators’ of their care. Using existing knowledge, lived experience, and student collaboration, the author seeks to demonstrate how neurodivergent therapists can contribute to art therapy praxis.

Neurodivergent at Columbia: Lessons Learned from Developing a Student Self-Advocacy Club at Columbia University

Presenters: Juliette Gudknecht and Matthew C. Zajic, Teachers College, Columbia University; Ara Bakhteyar, Columbia University

Neurodivergent at Columbia is a student-run, self-advocacy club that has grown to include over 200 individuals across the Columbia University affiliated institutions. This presentation will be a discussion among two neurodivergent students who established the club and the affiliated faculty advisor about the club’s activities, development of new and ongoing programming for undergraduate and graduate students, creation of Neurodiversity Awareness Day event in 2023 (a hybrid event with over 350 registered attendees) and planning for the 2024 event, and future hopes and aspirations of the club. During our session, we will explore the content and influence of our club's activities, highlighting our dedication to promoting inclusiveness, support, and empowerment for neurodivergent individuals within the Columbia University community and beyond. A core component of our session will focus on the intersectionality of neurodiversity and mental health, highlighting how the club’s activities are aligned to the needs of neurodivergent postsecondary students. Specific examples that we will highlight include the development of an autism support group funded by Columbia University Counseling and Psychological services in addition to the role that mental health played during Neurodiversity Awareness Day. Anecdotal examples will also be provided that highlight how the club promotes a holistic approach to inclusivity that acknowledges how to support the mental health of neurodivergent postsecondary students. This session will include discussion of topics that we believe educators, administrators, and advocates will find beneficial in thinking about how to actively promote and provide acceptance and support for neurodivergent individuals within their own academic communities.

The Workplace Mitigator: The Positive Influence of Workplaces on Mental Health of Neurodivergent Employees

Presenter: Jennifer Feldman, Specialisterne US

In the United States, the estimated unemployment rate of neurodivergent individuals has reached 30-40%1 compared to the national average unemployment rate of 3.7%2. Of self-identified autistic adults, anxiety and depression co-occur in 20% and 11% of the population respectively3 and this has been proposed to align with similar neurodiversities. While some of these numbers are stark, Specialisterne and the neurodiversity hiring movement have demonstrated that with understanding, education, and inclusive process, it is possible to improve outcomes for neurodivergents by aligning them with meaningful and fair employment opportunities. These invalidating experiences can be present throughout a lifetime from educational settings to workplace environments. Some of the mitigating variables researchers have considered to either positively or negatively influence include: accessibility to employment, workplace relationships and communication, role alignment, sensory and mental health needs, colleagues' knowledge and beliefs about diagnoses, and, family and community context4 and masking5. There is even a growing body of research that is also demonstrating Dialectical Behavior Therapy6 as a trauma-informed Evidence-Based Practice as a viable treatment for the trauma and invalidation a neurodivergent person could experience. When looking at predictors of Quality of Life in autistic adults7, employment and living independently are two considerations Specialisterne makes when supporting neurodivergent individuals. Specialisterne is often grappling with the question of what comes first: the stable work environment or stable mental health. Due to invalidating and traumatic experiences, is someone identifying with a neurodiversity able to fully embrace their adulthood including employment and financial security? In our presentation, the Specialisterne team intends to take advantage of the safe space this conference will provide by sharing lived experience and anecdotal assessment of our social impact, how neuroinclusive recruitment and retention practices directly correlate with increased quality of life for neurodivergent job seekers/employees, with secure and meaningful employment there is decreased anxiety and depression in our candidates, and all of this leads to a positive influence on someone’s mental health and wellbeing. We will discuss strategies that can be deployed to promote clarity in both behavior and communication, respect, and structure which decreases anxiety and increases stability. We also intend to share tools to develop a strong understanding of unique strengths and support needs to move beyond the label of neurodiversity and begin to normalize how each unique person operates in the workplace.

3:10 PM     Closing Session