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So Many Special Ed Conferences-So Little Time (and money): Which Are Worth It?

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Welcome to the new blog design!  I cannot give a big enough round of applause to Megan from A Bird in the Hand Designs.  She did a beautiful job of taking my vision and putting it into graphic design while keeping me from trying to crowd it up!  She was great to work with!  I hope you enjoy it and that it’s slightly less cluttered look makes it easier to find what you need.

I announced on Facebook the other day that I am going to Vegas later this week for the Applied Behavior Analysis International Autism (ABAI Autism) conference.  Someone commented and asked about how to make good decisions about which conferences to attend given how much time off from work and expense is involved.  I realized that I have spent a good part of my career attending conferences.  Sometimes it’s because I’m presenting. Sometimes it’s because I was promoting our academic programs when I worked full time at Nova (and I still sometimes do this).  Other times it was because I had other types of professional commitments.  Or a combination of all of these.  Over the years, I’ve kind of decided which conferences are worthwhile (for me at least) and which are not so much.  I’ve also gathered opinions over the years from educators about what they want and need from conferences.  So, I thought I would share some pros and cons of different conferences.

Generally, on an annual basis I have some conferences I always attend.  For instance, I almost always attend the Autism Society of America conference.  It takes place in July and I like the mix of sessions designed for individuals on the spectrum, families and professionals.  It’s a great time to interact with families and individuals with autism, hear things from their point of view, while also having professional opportunities as well as the greatly needed CEUs.  One of the things that I think really sets this annual conference apart from others is its inclusion of individuals on the spectrum in both speaking engagements, opportunities for networking, and in advising the organization.  For teachers, if you are in the area of the ASA conference (this year it’s in Denver) I definitely recommend it for a holistic view of autism.  I also serve on the Panel of Professional Advisors for ASA and have appreciated that opportunity.  I’ve written more about why I really love ASA here if you are interested.

I am not going to cover every state and regional conference because I have little experience with them.  However, I highly recommend OCALICON, which is the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence Disabilities annual conference.  It takes place in November in Columbus, OH…and yes that meant snow this year.  I think that the OCALICON organizers do a wonderful job of presenting a program that is educationally based (because they are part of the DOE in Ohio) with conference topics ranging from how to write standards-based goals and teach self-regulation to how to work with individuals with multiple disabilities and a stellar set of presentations on assistive technology.  There are presenters that come from across the country and internationally and we use that opportunity to network.  For a well-rounded conference with real, practical talks about classroom practice, I think OCALI does an awesome job.

If you are looking for CEUs for ABA and cutting edge research and strategies, then the ABAI-Autism conference has traditionally been a great conference that can update you on the most recent research and new directions in the ABA field of autism.  One of the things I love about it is that it has one presenter at a time, so there are no decisions about which speaker you are going to “sacrifice” to see another.  There is also no difficulty of trying to get to the presentation early enough to get a seat, which annoys me to no end at the ABAI national conference.  Another great feature is that there are nationally recognized speakers and researchers presenting, so you typically get high quality speakers.  This is different than some other national conferences where you see their students.  I was one of those students once and I wouldn’t say I was nearly as good a presenter as my mentor and would never say I could substitute for him.  I haven’t been to this conference in a while, so I’ll let you know how it is when I get back.

There are a TON of other autism-related conferences out there to attend. Some tour the country so they come close to where you live.  In the next couple of posts I am planning to talk about professionals and people you should definitely never miss if you have the opportunity to hear them speak.  For example, Temple Grandin would be one I would say you always want to take the opportunity to hear if she will be presenting at a conference.  Then I will also talk about some trainings that are well worth pursuing if you have the chance.  For instance, the 2-day PECS training is a great one you don’t want to miss if you are going to use PECS (and by that I don’t mean visuals, but the communication system) with students.  But I will leave that for the next time.

As an aside, if you are a TPT seller (or want to be a TPT seller), I highly recommend the TPT conference.  I may miss the Autism Society conference this year because the TPT conference overlaps with it.  It’s not a decision I look forward to making.

So, do you have conferences that you see as a must for professional development?  Please share in the comments!

Until next time,

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