2021 Autism Symposium


Event Information

Join us for The Autism Program of Illinois’ 2021 Autism Symposium featuring both National and State-level autism experts. Our keynote speaker, nationally recognized Dr. Catherine Lord, will present findings from a 26 year observational study which provides an outlook of factors that may have affected the life trajectories of participants diagnosed on the autism spectrum. This study also shows the diverse pathways that lead to different levels of skill and achievement in individuals with autism.

Our lineup of featured speakers are statewide experts who are associated with TAP and will be presenting their research finding about current evidence-based therapeutic trends.

The Symposium is Free to attend. If you would like to claim the provided CEU’s, there is a $40 fee that can be paid upon registration.
CEU’s will be provided by the Institute on Disability and Human Development at UIC.
Featured Speakers

9:00 AM – 9:10 AM | Introduction

9:15 AM – 10:15 AM | Grace Lafo & Dr. Valerie Boyer, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

10:30 AM – 11:30 AM | Dr. Tamar Heller, University of Illinois Chicago

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM | Keynote – Dr. Catherine Lord, University of California Los Angeles

1:45 PM – 2:45 PM | Dr. Mark Dixon, University of Illinois Chicago

3:00 PM – 4:00 Pm | Dr. Karla Dopeke, Illinois State University

Symposium Program

Dr. Catherine Lord, UCLA

Keynote Speaker

Or Scan the QR code with your phone to register!

9:00 AM – 9:10 AM


9:15 AM – 10:15 AM

Parent’s Experiences Navigating the Diagnostic Process for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Presented by Grace Lafo, Southern Illinois University Carbondale and Dr. Valerie Boyer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

The purpose of this qualitative investigation is to compile the experience of parents with the diagnostics process for autism spectrum disorder. The lead investigator completed this project as part of a REACH award from Southern Illinois University. The lead investigator piloted an interview protocol with two families and then modified the interview protocol to complete with a target of 20 families living in the southern Illinois region. The lead investigator transcribed the interviews. Both investigators analyzed the interviews for themes using online qualitative analysis platform. Themes emerged regarding timeline to diagnosis, barriers to diagnosis, supports through diagnosis, and opportunities to improve the experiences of families during and following diagnosis of ASD. Results will be discussed and future implications for services in the southern Illinois region will be highlighted.

10:30 AM – 11:00 AM

Autism, Technology, and Innovative Initiatives
Presented by Dr. Maureen Dunne, Ph.D., Univresity of Illinois at Chicago and Dr. Tamar Heller, Ph.D., University of Illinois at Chicago

In this presentation, we introduce two pilot programs that utilize technology in novel ways to remotely deliver autism services, which became an acute need due to the Covid-19 pandemic health crisis and may continue to represent an important pathway for services given advances in technology and recent steps to deregulate the telehealth marketplace. The first pilot is a 3D story world that therapists use to teach social skills with a particular focus on perspective-taking skills and theory of mind. The research study was funded by The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) to test a novel technology solution with 8-10 year-old children with ASD. The second pilot program involves technology training and coding bootcamps where each team includes at least one neurodiverse team member. An introduction to coding games was offered at the Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago where a young autistic man won the Grand Prize for best game at a corporate sponsored Hackathon. Since the onset of the pandemic, bootcamps have been conducted virtually.

11:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Facilitators and Barriers of Neurodivergent Students’ Experience in Postsecondary Education
Presented by Helen Rottier, University of Illinois at Chicago

Helen will present findings from her original thesis research which used thematic analysis to identify facilitators, barriers, and resources that affect autistic and neurodivergent students’ experiences in postsecondary education. Facilitators to student success and satisfaction included opportunities, relationships, and accommodations. Barriers included disability-related barriers, socialization, and academics. Resources included accommodations, mental health services, and academic support services such as tutoring, advising, and library services. Findings from this research should set future research priorities on autistic and neurodivergent students’ experiences, especially on accommodations, and guide support services for autistic and neurodivergent postsecondary students.

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM


Autism from 2 – 26
Presented by Dr. Catherine Lord, Ph.D, University of California Los Angeles

Dr. Lord’s research group has followed a sample observational study for the last 26 years which has included children under 3 who were referred for possible autism and other developmental disorders. The study has required that the children, adults, and families intermittently report how they are doing and about the factors that may have affected their life trajectories. Dr. Lord will present these and other findings in a way that we can use them to predict changes when we need to anticipate changes, better select treatment goals, and recognize the heterogeneous and diverse pathways that the lives of people follow across different areas of skill and achievement.

1:45 PM – 2:45 PM

Expanding the Definition of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and it’s Implications for Persons with Autism 
Presented by Dr. Mark R Dixon, Ph.D., BCBA-D, University of Illinois at Chicago, Jessica M Hinman, BCBA, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Zhihui Yi, BCBA, University of Illinois at Chicago

This presentation will showcase the latest advances and expansions of what is commonly known as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  Used as both an assessment and treatment approach for persons with autism, ABA is changing drastically in both scope and depth.  Antiquated methods continue to be replaced with innovative discoveries that focus more on large scale cognitive development and social-emotional well-being.  We will provide a brief summary of such changes that care providers and consumers should be aware of, present data comparing traditional ABA to more contemporary ABA, and the ramifications of such delivery changes for the clients treated.  A series of randomized controlled trials and a variety of other outcome research projects that have been funded by TAP over recent years will be highlighted. 

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Identity-First vs. Person-First Language: Preferences and Impact of Use
Presented by Amanda Taboas, M.A., Illinois State University, Dr. Corinne Zimmerman, Ph.D., Illinois State University, and Dr. Karla Doepke, Ph.D., Illinois State University

This presentation will explore an ongoing study which aims to identify preferences in language use among autism stakeholders and individuals with little to no exposure to the autism community. We will also explore the impact of language use on parental perceptions of school faculty members. Through this presentation, the controversy surrounding the use of person-first and identity-first language will be discussed.

About us

The Autism Program of Illinois (TAP) Service Network is a collaboration of 4 universities and 11 organizations that together operate 20 centers across the state. As a network, TAP is able to offer services that respond to the unique needs of different communities across Illinois.


The Autism Program of Illinois

Hope Pavilion
5220 S. 6th Street,
Suite 2300B

Springfield IL 62703