Conference Speakers


 Costanza Colombi, PhD
Research Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

Costanza Colombi is a research assistant professor at the University of Michigan and has extensive research experience in the early diagnosis and intervention of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At the University of Michigan, she trained all professionals involved in the delivery of early intervention in a randomized trial funded by the National Institutes of Health that evaluated the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM). Prior to that, while she was working at the National Research Council of Italy, she initiated an ESDM trial involving seven ASD centers within the Italian Public Health System. For many years, she has trained professionals in the ESDM, nationally and internationally. In addition to the ESDM, she also has expertise in early development of ASD and ASD across the life span.

Colombi is an author of the Brief Observation of Social Communication Change (BOSCC), a cutting-edge measure of treatment outcomes for young children with ASD. She is a trainer for the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R), both of which are considered gold standard diagnostic instruments for research and clinical work in ASD. Moreover, she has authored and co-authored multiple high impact articles in different areas of ASD, including diagnosis, intervention, socio-cognitive development and social communication. She is currently evaluating the ESDM adapted for a parent-child group delivery with support of grants from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. She collaborates with several Italian universities and public health hospitals to disseminate and evaluate evidence-based early interventions for young children with ASD.


Grand River Room: “Advocating in Mental Health System” – Marianne Huff, LMSW (V.P. of Mental Health Association in Michigan) 

Marianne Huff has distinguished herself as being a staunch advocate for persons with disabilities and their families in the state of Michigan and in the state of Ohio.  With over 20 years of experience in the disability rights arena, Marianne has worked diligently in the following areas to assist persons with disabilities and their families: Fair Housing, recipient and civil rights, mental health and waiver advocacy. Marianne is a Licensed Master Social Worker with a Clinical Designation in the state of Michigan. Marianne has been “in and around” the public mental health system in Michigan for over 25 years and has worked as a community mental health case manager for persons with mental illness; has served as a housing specialist; as an advocate at Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service, Inc.;  served as the Advocacy Director for the largest Center for Independent Living in the state of Ohio—the Ability Center of Greater Toledo; and is the former Executive Director of Allegan County Community Mental Health Services.

Turner Room: “Behavior De-escalation Tips for Parents” – Karoline Kenville, MA, BCBA (Early Autism Services) and Jenny Llorca MA, BCBA (Chief Clinical Director of Early Autism Services)

Often we find ourselves avoiding certain situations and events to avoid a behavior. This can  be a barrier to our daily lives, family events and more. in this session you will learn different strategies to try based on basic principles of ABA to quickly de- escalate a behavior using an antecedent approach to the behavior.

Karoline Kenville has been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis for 11 years, and a BCBA.  She is working toward the completion of a Phd In Early Childhood Development At Oakland University. Her research interest are in motivating operations and interventions for children who engage in aggressive behaviors towards self and/or others. Karoline is passionate about the collaboration between ABA and all other providers; respecting each practice and all working toward a common goal; creating a better quality of life for the child and their families. 

Jenny Llorca has been in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis and working for Early Autism Services for 11 years where she started as a behavior technician and is now the Chief Clinical Director. While creating measurable change for families that have children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the United States, Jenny has developed a passion for investigating how to provide quality ABA services to families in countries that are still coming into contact with the research on therapeutic effectiveness. It is her goal for EAS and herself to participate in advocacy and research to fully disseminate information about Applied Behavior Analysis wherever there are children that require the assistance to learn.

Michigan Room: “Disciplinary Proceedings Under the IDEA and §504” – John Brower, JD (Education Law Consultant at Autism Alliance of Michigan)

The session will review the disciplinary proceedings for disabled student subject to the protections of IDEA and §504.  From the point the parent becomes aware of the charges to the conclusion, including: initial fact gathering, deciding if an attorney is needed, how different disabilities (or suspected disability) affect the process, role of administrator’s recommendation, how to handle student witness statements and the contents of the Student Code of Conduct. Also addressed will be the importance of the Manifestation Determination Review (MDR), the availability of expedited due process, provision of FAPE after expulsion and expulsion hearing procedures.  Suggestions will be provided on how to deal with police and court involvement.   

John Brower is an attorney with over 25+ years of experience representing parents and students in their disputes with schools from preschool to college.  That includes students protected by the IDEA and §504. Also, general civil rights issues, grade appeals, school discipline actions and preliminary review of school related personal injuries matters.  He has represented disabled students in both administrative hearings, federal and state courts and the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.He is also the Managing Attorney of the Education Law Center, PLC, an organization that uses a network of parent/student education law attorneys to provide training and other similar non-representation services. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Bridges-4-Kids, a parent support organization and is retained by the Autism Alliance of Michigan to assist with issues affecting students with autism. 

Washington Room: “Blueprints and Tools for Independence ” – Joanna Lofton, (Community Resource Specialist at Autism Alliance of Michigan)

This session will provide individuals and caregivers strategies and tools to facilitation independence in the home and in the community. Regardless of abilities and challenges in life, every individual should be offered opportunities for growth, independence and community involvement.  

Joanna Monk-Lofton is the Community Resource Specialist for AAoM’s MiNavigator Team.  She has over 20 years of experience assisting families with mental and physical challenges.  Joanna worked at The Children’s Center of Wayne County providing support to staff, connecting families to community resources and advocating for the educational rights of children with special needs.  Prior to joining the Children’s Center Joanna operated as the Associate Director of (CAUSE) Citizens Alliance to Uphold Special Education for the tri-county area. Along with the day to day operations Joanna worked to develop a network of parents of children with special needs as advocates.  As advocates they fought for the educational rights of children in schools and intern assisted other parents with their children. She has been active in her community through several organizational and county boards. Joanna is the parent of a young adult with special needs and has worked diligently to assist him and others in achieving their life goals and improving their quality of life.


Grand River Room: “Promoting health and wellness in individuals and families touched by autism across the lifespan” – Sharon Milberger, ScD (Director of the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute and Associate Professor, Family Medicine & Public Health Sciences at Wayne State University) and Jane Turner, MD, FAAP (General Pediatrician and Professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University)

At the end of the session, participants will be able to discuss holistic approaches to health and wellness, recognize and describe challenges to wellness in individuals and families touched by autism, identify areas, causes and signals of stress, and describe techniques that can be used to reduce stress.

Sharon Milberger, ScD is Director of the Michigan Developmental Disabilities Institute, and Associate Professor, Family Medicine & Public Health Sciences, Wayne State University. Dr. Milberger is also Director of the Michigan Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Developmental Disabilities (MI-LEND). She has a deep commitment to serving children with developmental disabilities and their families. Dr. Milberger  has over two decades of research and program experience in childhood neurodevelopmental disorders, early intervention, family support subsidy, and health promotion and disease prevention. She is committed to promoting diversity and cultural competency and served as a Healthcare Equity Ambassador (and chaired the Healthcare Equity evaluation workgroup) for Henry Ford Health System. Dr. Milberger led the creation of LiveWell, a Center of Excellence at Henry Ford Health System to optimize the health of system employees, patients, and community members. She earned her Doctor of Science degree in Epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health. 

Jane Turner, MD, FAAP, is a general pediatrician and professor of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University. Dr. Turner enjoys all aspects of caring for children and youth and has a special interest in working with children who have chronic health conditions including autism and other neurodevelopmental disabilities. She has served on the faculty of the College of Human Medicine for more than 20 years as a teacher, clinician and administrator. She was chief medical consultant for Michigan’s Children’s Special Health Care Services program from 2011-2017.  She served on the Governor’s Autism Council from 2012-2016. Dr.Turner is co-Director of Michigan’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities program, an interdisciplinary graduate-level program involving six Michigan universities. Dr. Turner completed her bachelors of arts in biology at Harvard University. She went to medical school at the Oregon Health Sciences University and completed a pediatric residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Turner Room: “Fighting an Insurance Denial” – Chaunta Tsegaye, MSA (Insurance Specialist at Autism Alliance of Michigan)

Chaunta Tsegaye received her BAA degree in Entrepreneurship and her Masters Degree in Public Administration from Central Michigan University.  She began working at Beaumont Health Systems in 2011. Chaunta was responsible for pediatric speech, physical and occupational therapy, customer billing concerns and coordinating with staff to ensure the best plan of care for patients.  One of the main components of her position was helping parents navigate the insurance benefits offered to them by their employers, or through state funded services. This position increased her knowledge of insurance utilization, contract rates, and prior authorization processes.  During her time at Beaumont her specialties were crosswalks, appropriate billing, and denial/appeal management as it relates to pediatric therapies. Chaunta Tsegaye began working in her role as Insurance Specialist at Autism Alliance of Michigan (AAoM) in 2018. Chaunta is responsible for helping families learn about the options available for additional insurance plans, appeals/denials, and also helping adult members find the best available health insurance options. Chaunta’s role at AAoM has expanded to include Community Outreach for underserved communities.  Chaunta is inspired by the uniqueness of the services required by those in the disability community, especially Autism and she maintains her competency through continuous education opportunities.

Michigan Room: “Special Education; A Series of Transitions” – Barbara Brish, Psy Sp, NCSP (Education Specialist at Autism Alliance of Michigan)

Barbara Brish is the Education Specialist for the Autism Alliance of Michigan’s MiNavigator. Barbara brings to the position 26 years’ experience in public education, as a school psychologist, special education director, and university adjunct professor. Barbara holds multiple degrees and certificates: Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Master Degrees in Psychology, Alternative Dispute Resolution and Industrial Relations, a Specialist Degree in School Psychology, Certification in Special Education Administration/Central Office Administration and the Interdisciplinary Certificate in Autism. As a special education director Barbara’s responsibilities included administering the district’s special education program along with directing three county center based programs including the program for children with autism.

Washington Room: “MAST Keeping Children Safe in the Home & Community” – Joe Maatman, Major (ret) (Safety Specialist at Autism Alliance of Michigan)

Joe Maatman has over 40 years’ experience in Law Enforcement.  During his career, Joe has worked for the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, (reserve deputy), Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, Lansing Police Department, Lansing School District Department of Public Safety and the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office.   Joe also worked for over 25 years with Lansing Community College as an Adjunct Professor in the Criminal Justice Program as well as instructing police in-service training seminars and instructing in the Mid-Michigan Police Academy. Mr. Maatman also served as the special projects manager for the Criminal Justice Office of LCC after his retirement from the Lansing Police Department, specializing in Terrorism training.  He also has lectured at Michigan State University, Ferris State College and Cooley Law School on Criminal Justice topics.


Grand River Room: “Person Centered Planning for Community Inclusion” – Sally Burton-Hoyle, PhD (Associate Professor at Eastern Michigan University)

Dr. Sally Burton-Hoyle, sister to a person on the autism spectrum, serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) at the federal level, and has focused her life and career on improving the education and lives of people with autism and other challenging behaviors. Dr. Burton-Hoyle was Executive Director of the Autism Society of Michigan from 1994-2006 prior to coming to her current position at Eastern Michigan University. At her current position, she developed both the undergraduate program and the Masters of Autism Spectrum Disorders Program at Eastern, and currently directs this program as well as the College Supports Program for students with autism. She has been facilitating person-centered plans since 1985, and has trained mental health agencies and direct care staff in several states in this process. Dr. Burton-Hoyle holds a doctorate in counseling psychology and special education from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Kansas.

Turner Room: “Video Modeling” – Joshua Plavnick, PhD, BCBA-D (Professor and Director at Early Learning Institute) 

Joshua Plavnick is an associate professor of special education, and director of the Early Learning Institute, which he founded in 2014. His research interests involve the development and implementation of community-based interventions for individuals with autism spectrum disorder, automated measurement of human behavior, applications of technology to behavior analytic interventions, and training educational service providers to administer behavior analytic interventions. 

Michigan Room: “What is Social Coaching?” – Bob Steinkamp, BA., M.A., Ed.S. (Deputy Director of ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan)

ASPPIRE is a nonprofit serving primarily Clinton, Eaton, and Ingham counties providing services to adults with a variety of disabilities, many of which have high functioning autism. Learn about their social coaching model that includes weekly groups to build social skills, improve relationships and experience activities in their communities. Building their participant’s self-determination and self-advocacy skills are key aspects of the program. A panel of ASPPIRE participants will share their experiences and answer questions on the benefits of social coaching.

Bob is a retired special educator serving 36 years, including teaching, consulting and supervising. He is the co-author of a reference and organization system for persons with developmental disabilities and he has taught special education at the college level. Bob is the co-founder of a non-profit company that provides social coaching for adults with social deficits in the mid-Michigan area. Bob’s focus has been on giving adults, through the social coaching model the assistance needed to improve their quality of life. Currently, Bob has two grandsons on the autism spectrum.