I-SPAN Directors Take the TEDx Stage

by Amy Gallo '13

The School of Education’s Inter-disciplinary Specialty Program in Autism (I-SPAN) began its first course in fall 2013 with just eight students. Now, in its second year, the program size has more than tripled to 29 students from the disciplines of education, speech language pathology, and music. Co-directors Shanna Jamanis, Ph.D., associate professor in inclusive childhood education, and Dawn Vogler-Elias, Ph.D., assistant professor in communications sciences and disorders, want Nazareth to educate the next leaders in the field of autism.

Last fall, Jamanis and Vogler-Elias discovered TEDx Rochester, a local conference affiliated with the global TED organization, that gives Rochesterians the opportunity to come together to share “ideas worth spreading” in a series of 10-minute talks.

“We thought the format of TEDx Talks—engaging with the audience, making them consider something new and different, and calling them to action—was very similar to how we instruct in the classroom,” says Vogler-Elias. This familiar format allowed them to share their program philosophy and educate the community in the same way they educate I-SPAN students.

“Our hope was to reach our community members—professionals, business partners, those in education—to help them see autism with a different lens; one that highlights strengths and assets and emphasizes the importance of including the voices of people on the autism spectrum in this conversation,” says Jamanis.

Their presentation, “Transforming Perceptions of Autism,” used the example of Michael, a hypothetical 11-year-old on the spectrum, to challenge the audience to remove the negative connotation from the behaviors of autistic individuals in a new way. “In the media, in education, in a lot of workplaces, the dialogue is about individuals on the spectrum being a challenge,” says Vogler-Elias. “Instead, we wanted to focus on their strengths and begin the discussion for channeling these strengths in school and the workplace.”

After describing Michael’s long, ritualistic bedtime routine and love of taking apart electronics, Jamanis and Vogler-Elias asked: “What if Michael’s bedtime routine is his own way of managing his emotions and decompressing? What if we saw his love of dismantling things as a future employment asset in the technology fields? What if we could allow autism’s different way of thinking to pull us out of our box of normalcy?”

Jamanis says the talk was very well received and believes it accomplished their goals of both promotion and community education. “We heard from many people after the talk and received some emails and tweets from folks in the community who were interested in learning more about the program,” says Jamanis. “The TEDx talk did get Nazareth College out there in the community for autism professional preparation.”

Amy Gallo ’13 is the assistant director in Nazareth’s Office of Alumni Relations.

Shanna Jamanis and Dawn Vogler-Elias

Professors Shanna Jamanis (left) and Dawn Vogler-Elias discuss the I-SPAN program at TEDx Rochester.