top of page
Unlocking the Mystery- Round table.jpg

Central Alabama's 9th
"Unlocking the Mystery of Developmental Disorders" Conference!

Date:  Friday, November 15th,2024
Time:  8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. (Registration starts at 7:30) 
Place: Vestavia Hills Baptist Church
         2600 Vestavia Drive
         Birmingham, AL 35216

CEUs will be awarded!
Lunch and breakfast items provided!

CEUs will be awarded!    Certificates for 6.5 hours provided at end of conference!


Walk ups Welcome!
Cash or credit card

Individual Tickets:  

Early bird (ends Nov. 1st) = $100* per person
Beginning Nov. 2nd= $125* per person

Purchase Orders and Group Discount Orders:

Early bird for 5 or more individuals (ends Nov. 1st) = $80* per person
Beginning Nov. 2nd for 5 or more individuals = $100* per person

Please contact Denise Gillespie for details on group discount information and all purchase orders!!
Phone(text or call): 205-612-4458  

*Credit card payments will incur small processing fee
Want to Exhibit your services or resources??
Contact Denise Gillespie: or call/text (205)612-4458
Exhibitor details are on the exhibitor form    


Special Education Consultants & Conference Organizers' mission is working to "unlock the mystery" of developmental disabilities by providing current information and professional expertise that will empower parents and educators. 

This conference is designed to educate parents, teachers, and other professionals on critical issues associated with disabilities! Speakers will cover topics including special education law, behavior concerns and plans, transition options, first response advocacy/safety and managing compassion/fatigue.

What others are saying....

"To say I enjoyed the conference today is an understatement! I was bombarded with knowledge and tidbits to assist my students to improve behavior and access the curriculum. I was very impressed with the fundamentals of Special Education Law. Leslie Allen was phenomenal! Sarah from UAB Sparks was amazing! As special education teachers we get so wrapped up in the behaviors we see on the surface forgetting the function or triggers that cause the behaviors. Laura Cole was inspiring! Her reminder of getting in the Awe-tism world and take the small steps to help bridge communication is core to improving language skills in all students.
I have saved the best for last, Dustin. I am amazed by his story and his dedication to changing the lives of others, heartwarming! I am not a sky diver yet but I am inspired to take risks.
I have called and emailed several other teachers and next year hope to represent (our) County Schools well at the conference!" Huntsville Conference, 2019

Conference picture_ registration.JPG



Dr. Dale Stripling and Sgt. Mike Cowart (retired)
"Creating a Culture of School Safety"


Dale Stripling holds a Doctorate Degree in Educational Administration from the University of Alabama, a bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Language Arts from UAB, a master’s in educational administration from UAB, and an Educational Specialist Degree from The University of Montevallo. Dale has served as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal in schools that range from urban to rural. He has worked as a Student Services Supervisor for the Jefferson County Board of Education in Birmingham, Alabama. He is currently a School Safety Specialist for The Alabama State Department of Education.

Dr. Stripling is a member of the Alabama Department of Education’s Central Office Task Force on School Safety and regularly assists in regional safety trainings throughout the state. He has served as a judge on the Alabama Attorney General’s Blue-Ribbon Council for safe schools. He is a certified trainer in the Colorado Threat Assessment and the Alabama Behavioral Threat Assessment protocol. He is trained as an Adolescent Mental Health First Aid Trainer. Dale has been affiliated with The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers since 2003. He has served as a district education representative and currently serves as the Executive Education Advisor.

During Sergent Mike Cowart's 32 years of service for the Decatur Police Department, he worked as a Patrol Officer, Crime Prevention Specialist, Sex Offender Compliance Officer, Uniformed Narcotics Interdiction Officer, and School Resource Officer. After being promoted to Sergeant, he supervised the Patrol Shift, Community Policing Unit, Anti-Crime Unit, Tactical Boat Crew, and the School Resource Officer Unit. While supervising the SRO unit, he began working with the Governor’s School Safety Task Force which lead to his current role as a Regional Safety Administrator/Trainer for the Alabama State Department of Education. During his career in Law Enforcement, Mike was awarded the Medal of Valor x2, Medal of Merit x2, Medal of Commendation x3, Chief’s Commendation x3, numerous top 10 shooter awards, and the Purple Heart. Mike served in the military and is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm. He coordinates his home church’s safety and security team, consults with other local churches to establish security teams and measures, and serves his community as a volunteer firefighter.


Jerimie Goike

"Motivational and Inspirational Journeys through the world of Autism"

Mr. Goike will share personal insights and perspectives about living with Autism and overcoming its many challenges. Jerimie is a very active person in the autism community in a variety of ways. He serves as a member on several boards and councils. In particular he will be completing his final term on the Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council which is chaired by Senator Cam Ward. Jerimie was appointed to the council by the governor in 2008 and went on to serve two very exciting terms. In this time Jerimie participated in creating several autism legislation pieces that have since been signed into law in our state and make lives better. Jerimie hasn’t been just any member of this council but a founding member! Jerimie was the first of several members to be appointed when the council was first founded. Jerimie decided he wanted to be a motivational speaker in 1999 when his employer just happened to be having an “autism
workshop” during a staff conference that the agency puts on from time to time. He knew his personal perspectives of his overcoming autism would be a huge benefit to people attending this workshop. At that time there wasn’t anyone willing to do that until Jerimie came along. Jerimie worked for the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services as their telephone operator in the Birmingham office until retiring after 25 years to pursue new employment. Jerimie has always had a love for music and the arts which he managed to turn into a couple of side businesses. Jerimie ran a very successful D.J. business for 10 years. He often played at parties and a variety of social functions. After a 10 year run Jerimie decided to say goodbye to being a D.J. and take up photography. Jerimie always enjoyed drawing early on in his early life and loves creativity. Photography has allowed him to experience that a lot. Jerimie has also been some really great travels. He recently took trips to Ireland, San Francisco and Hawaii all independently by himself. It’s on these trips is where really hones his photography skills. He does sell his photos at various art shows. Jerimie also volunteers as a photographer at events with his church and work to hone his skills. You can view his photography work on his website at Jerimie also has a YouTube page where can watch some of his speaking engagements at

Leslie Allen
“Special Ed Law 101: A Crash Course for Educators”
Special education law is complex and litigious with many moving parts to be considered when trying to understand the legal requirements of educating students with disabilities. This session will provide educators with an overview of significant areas of special education law, including child-find, evaluation, eligibility, IEP/placement, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)/the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issues. The overview is designed to highlight basic rules and common (and typically unintentional) missteps that can result in legal difficulties for school systems.

Leslie A. Allen is a Partner in the Birmingham, Alabama office of Resolutions in Special Education, Inc., where she represents and advises public school districts and other education agencies on special education law matters. Leslie is a member of the State Bars of Alabama and Georgia and is admitted to practice in state and federal courts in both states, as well as before the UnitedStates Supreme Court. With nearly 15years of experience focused exclusively on special education matters, she also has more than 10 years of broad business litigation experience, including in the areas of employment, healthcare and general liability insurance. Leslie and Founding RISE Partner  Julie J. Weatherly previously worked together in Atlanta, Georgia, where they were both members of another law firm also devoted exclusively to special education law. In 2021, Leslie was selected to the Mid-South Super Lawyers list for professional achievements in Schools &  Education Law.
Leslie is a Birmingham native and completed her undergraduate work at the University of Alabama, where she graduated summa cum laude. She then graduated cum laude from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Shannon White and Aronia Allen
"Achieving Your Maximum Potential with Vocational Rehabilitation/Life After High School"

This presentation will be an overview of AL Department of Rehabilitation Services; the process of working with ADRS, pre-employment transition services, transitioning to adulthood from high school, and how to achieve employment goals.
Shannon White is a Vocational Rehabilitation Field Supervisor at the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) with over ten years of experience helping individuals with disabilities achieve their maximum potential through employment. She graduated with a bachelor's in Exercise Science from Auburn University. Later, she obtained her Masters in Rehabilitation Counseling from Thomas University and most recently became a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) specializing in transition, Shannon uses that experience to empower students to set goals for themselves and transition from high school to adulthood, providing the necessary tools to help students be successful. By focusing on an individual strengths and abilities, Shannon has assisted countless ts throughout high school, post-secondary training, and obtaining employment. Over the years, Shannon's passion for working with transition students has garnered recognition by receiving counselor of the year from a local community rehab program and completing the leadership training institute through ADRS. Shannon may spend her days at ADRS, but seeing each student's growth over the years gets her up in the morning. When she is not at ADRS, Shannon loves spending time with her two kids and husband, visiting different places, and finding various adventures throughout the city. She is the mother of a child with ADHD and understands the struggles of parenting a child with a disability. She enjoys learning practical ways to help her child grow and positively cultivate their strengths. Shannon enjoys attending sporting events and cheering on the Auburn Tigers any chance she gets.


Tish McInnis

"Monitoring developmental Milestones"

Group discussion on Developmental Milestones and simple ways to monitor for child development. There will be small group activities and Resources will be provided.

Tish McInnis earned a BS Education degree from the University of South Alabama. Tish is the Alabama Strengthening Families Coordinator. She is a certified trainer by the National Alliance for the Children’s Trust Fund and provides statewide for the curriculum of the Protective Factors of the Strengthening Families™ Initiative and Zero to Three’s “The Growing Brain”. She also manages the distribution of the Smart Start Parenting Kit. This kit provided across the state to parents of newborns, resources from local, state, and national partners. Tish is also the Alabama Ambassador of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outreach program for Learn the Signs. Act Early. that aims to improve early identification of children with autism and other developmental disabilities so children and families can get the services and support they need. Collaboration with many state departments, agencies and programs are strong in the work she does. To name a few:  AL Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, Help Me Grow Alabama, Early Intervention, Alabama Interagency Autism Coordinating Council, Al Department of Early Childhood Education, Home Visitation, DHR Kids N Kin, Head Start, Learn the Signs. Act Early. and local Children Policy Councils. Passionate about the work of strengthening families in Alabama, has allowed her opportunities to share the progress in Alabama at local, state, and national platforms.  Presentations at Help Me Grow National Forums, National Family and Community Engagement Conference, Alabama Early Intervention and Toddler Conference, Alabama First Class Pre K Conference and Alabama Head Start Association.

Joseph D. Ackerson, Ph.D. Pediatric Neuropsychologist, Ackerson & Associates and Jeremy Cottle, M.A., Psychology Trainee, UAB Medical Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program 
"Neuropsychological Perspectives on the Diagnosis and Treatment of Autism"
Dr. Ackerson and Mr. Cottle will provide a clinical update on the current understanding ofautism from a neuropsychological/ brain and behavior perspective along with an understanding of the proper diagnosis and treatment planning for individuals with ASD autistic individuals.
BIOS:Dr. Ackerson is a pediatric and sports neuropsychologist who earned his Ph.D. in ClinicalPsychology from the University of Alabama, interned at James McClellan VAMC and the ArkansasChildren’s Hospital in Little Rock, and completed a neuropsychology fellowship at BraintreeHospital/Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Ackerson served as the Director of Psychology for Children’s Health System/Associate Clinical Director for Children’s Behavioral Health before spending ten years as the Director of Pediatric Neuropsychology for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Since 2008 he has served as Clinical Director for Ackerson & Associates Cognitive and Behavioral Services, a private practice group located in Vestavia Hills, AL ( Dr. Ackerson’s clinical interests include the evaluation and treatment of concussions and other forms of traumatic brain injury, executive dysfunction, ADD/ADHD and other cognitive processing/learning disorders, autism (ASD) and other genetic disorders, epilepsy, and complicated medical cases impacting brain functioning including demyelinating and metabolic disorders. He frequently consults schools, physicians, mental health professionals, athletic organizations, and healthcare systems regarding how to better serve their patients, students, and athletes with brain-based challenges.Mr. Jeremy Cottle is a current trainee of Dr. Ackerson’s and a graduate student in UAB’sMedical Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program. He completed his undergraduate training atHamilton College in Clinton, NY, and conducted research on school-based interventions forchildren and adolescents with complex developmental disabilities at Upstate Cerebral Palsy inUtica, NY, before enrolling at UAB for his graduate training. His specialty area of research isunderstanding the impact of gender on the expression and measurement of autism symptoms inchildren and youth.

Caroline G. Richter
"Behavioral and psychiatric disorders associated with neurodevelopmental disorders"

This presentation will focus on prevalence, causes, evaluation, and interventions related to psychiatric disorders in children and adolescence with neurodevelopmental disorders. The presenter will discuss the issues associated with dual diagnosis and how to work with an interdisciplinary team to provide the best care for an individual with a neurodevelopmental disorder that might have a psychiatric disorder associated with it. Common disorders discussed include anxiety, depression, oppositional defiant disorder, impulse control disorders, and eating disorders.
Dr. Caroline G. Richter is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of
Alabama at Birmingham. She is the director of the Science of Child Development and Neurodiversity
(STARS) lab. Her research expertise is in the area of children with neurodevelopmental disorders. She is
interested in understanding the cognitive and socio-emotional aspects that contribute to the variability
on the academic achievement of individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders. She is particularly 
interested in working with children with Williams syndrome, Down syndrome, learning disabilities,
and autism spectrum disorders. She hopes that the results of her research can be used to inform
targeted assessments and interventions, leading to improvements in the quality of life of individuals
with neurodevelopmental disorders and their families.


Dr. Erica Lee
"Using Mindfulness to Improve Behavioral Outcomes in the Elementary Classroom"
The presence of disruptive patterns of behavior adversely impacts students’ educational performance. By directly targeting students’ deficits in social-emotional learning, educators can equip students with the tools they need to learn in their natural environments. Mindfulness-based activities can prevent disruptive behavior in the K-3 inclusion classroom. Attendees will be
equipped with mindfulness activities to use in their settings.

Dr. Erica Lee is a clinical assistant research professor of special education at the University of Alabama. Prior to this, Dr. Lee served as an early childhood/elementary special education teacher for nine years in the Birmingham area. Her academic degrees include collaborative education (BS), early childhood special education (MAEd), autism (EdS), and early childhood education (PhD). Dr. Lee is passionate about serving children with disabilities and their families to ensure equal opportunities for all learners.


Gwen Brown, UAB Regional Autism Network(RAN)-Family Navigator and UAB Leadership Education and Neurodevelopmental  Disabilities( LEND)|University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD)-Family Faculty
"Regional Autism Network: We see Possibilities and sometimes provide Hope"
You will have an opportunity to learn about a great resource. You will gain access to resources often provided to providers and callers. Also, you will hear about some of the success stories that we have encountered along our journey. It is my hope that you will leave with higher expectations than you came with and that you will also leave with some valuable resources to help you and others along the journey of life.  After high school, life continues, and the diagnosis does not go away. I am a mom of a young adult who is creative and with an autism diagnosis. My oldest son was never broken and never needed to be fixed.

Gwendolyn Brown joined The Blazer Family in August 2021 as a UAB Regional Autism Network-Family Navigator and LEND|UCEDD-Family Faculty. Previously, she worked as a paralegal and as a professional advocate for several years. Her lived experiences represent her most valuable degrees. Throughout life, her heart's desire has been to help empower families and youth in Alabama due to battles fought and won. And to also share the message with many educators that students with a disABILITY diagnosis have the potential to become some of the most amazing and productive citizens when taught with love, with an expectation that they will achieve something valuable in life and that they can live meaningful lives. Shooting for the stars is never enough. Aiming for the next galaxy is her belief.

Heading 2

Dr. Deborah Voltz
"M 2 ECCA for Inclusion"
This presentation will focus on a framework for differentiated instruction referred to as
“M 2 ECCA for Inclusion”. This framework, designed for diverse, inclusive classrooms, addresses six major aspects of instruction—methods, materials, environment, content, collaboration, and assessment.

Deborah L. Voltz is Director of UAB’s Center for Urban Education. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education at the National College of Education in Evanston, IL, obtained her master’s degree in special education at UAB, and her doctorate of education from the University of Alabama. Dr. Voltz began her career as a special education teacher in Birmingham City Schools. She also has taught in teacher preparation programs at several universities across the country, including Alabama State University, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Louisville. She has taught internationally at the University of Melbourne, Australia and at the College of New Jersey’s Johannesburg Program in South Africa. Throughout her professional career, Dr. Voltz has had a passion for the education of diverse learners in inclusive schools. She has successfully written grants that have supported the development and implementation of UAB’s Urban Teacher Enhancement Program, and also has worked to enrich the professional development of administrators in inclusive urban schools. Dr. Voltz has engaged in an active research agenda related to this area, and has published dozens of articles and book chapters devoted to the topic of teaching diverse learners. Her book, Connecting Teachers, Students, and Standards: Strategies for Success in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms, has provided a concise guide for many educators as they work to enhance student achievement in today’s classrooms.


Samantha Wadsworth
"Executive Functioning Skills: The CEO of the Brain"
Executive Function is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Executive functioning skills are a set of processes that help manage oneself and one's resources to achieve a goal. Deficits in executive functioning is common in several disabilities,
such as mental illnesses, autism, ADHD, and traumatic brain injuries. This session will discuss the areas of executive functioning, as well as strategies and accommodations to increase success for students and employees.
Samantha is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) and Licensed Practicing Counselor (LPC) with over 20 years of experience. She is knowledgeable and experienced with many disability groups and has extensive experience working with individuals who have autism spectrum disorders and intellectual
disabilities.  Samantha spent 17 years with the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services-
Vocational Rehabilitation Division. She worked in various roles including Career Counselor, Vocational Evaluator, and Program Evaluation and Development Specialist determining college and job accommodations and providing training to advocate for and empower those with disabilities to reach their career goals. Recently Samantha took on a new role as Assistant Director of ADA Investigations and
Faculty Advisor with Disability Support Services at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB).In addition, she provides trainings and presentations related to promoting good mental health for personal and professional growth on various subjects. Some of the audiences include first responders, grief support groups, counselors, and several State agencies. Previously, she facilitated domestic violence and theft intervention groups and is a regular guest speaker for grief support groups. Samantha also has experience as an adjunct instructor for graduate students in counseling programs. Samantha received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Psychology and a Master’s of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling from The University of Alabama. She also completed a post-masters certification program in Rehabilitation Leadership and Management through Auburn University.

Tyler Merrell, Alabama State Department of Education, Special Education Services
"Tips for Breaking the Co-Teacher Code"
Co-Teaching does not have to be difficult and consume all of your planning. This presentation provides a brief overview of what Co-Teaching is and tips to overcome some of the most common challenges.
My name is Tyler Merrell, and I am an Education Specialist with the Alabama State Department of Education. I have over 18 years in the field of education, and I have served in a variety of roles and positions, including migrant education specialist, special education paraprofessional & teacher, intervention specialist, special education coordinator, behavior specialist, assistant principal, principal resident. I am passionate about helping students with disabilities succeed, and I am committed to providing them with the highest quality education possible. I hold a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Special Education from Valdosta State University, and I am currently pursuing a Doctoral degree at Valdosta State University. My dissertation research
focuses on the alignment and congruence between progress monitoring, present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (PLAAFP), individualized education program (IEP) goals, and the provision of supplemental aids and services (SAS) in special education. I am passionate about helping students with disabilities succeed, and I am committed to providing them with the highest quality education possible.​

Brynna Benefield
"Augmentative and Alternative Communication"
This session will cover general aspects of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), including options
and considerations, for children and adolescents with complex communication needs.

Brynna Benefield is the Speech-Language Pathologist with Children’s Rehabilitation Service where she co-coordinates the Augmentative Communication and Technology (ACT) Clinic for the Birmingham district, is a
team member in multi-disciplinary CRS evaluation and medical clinics including Feeding and Cerebral Palsy, and provides AAC training and follow up for clients, caregivers, therapists and school staff. Brynna received a  Bachelor of Science in Communication Disorders from Auburn University in 2001, and a Master of
Speech and Hearing Sciences from the University of New Mexico in 2006. She has worked in schools preK-8th grade, Early Intervention, Developmental Disability Waiver, pediatric outpatient clinics, and inpatient at a pediatric hospital.



November 9,2023

7:30- 8:00 a.m.


11:15-12:15 p.m.

    Sanctuary: Tyler Merrill
    Room 1: Gwendolyn Brown
    Room 2: Jerimie Goike

8:00-8:20 a.m.

Cindy Nelson
12:15-12:45 p.m.
Pick up Lunch/Break
(Eating is NOT allowed in the Sanctuary- please eat before 3rd session begins if you plan to listen to that presentation).  

8:20-9:40 a.m.

  Dr. Dale Stripling and
  Sgt. Mike Cowart

 12:45-1:45 p.m.

    Sanctuary: Samantha Whitworth
    Room 1: Caroline Richter
    Room 2: Leslie Allen

9:40-10:00 a.m.


1:45-2:00 p.m.


10:00-11:00 a.m.

    Sanctuary: Erica Lee
    Room 1: Tish McInnis
    Room 2: Shannon White                    and Aronia Allen

2:00-3:00 p.m.

    Sanctuary: Joe Ackerson a
nd                                  Jeremy Cottle
    Room 1: Brynna Benefield
    Room 2: Deborah Voltz

11:00-11:15 a.m.


3:00 p.m.

Pick up Certificates!


Contact Us


CINDY NELSON: Conference coordinator


205-612-4458   se
Sponores/ Exhibitors

SPONSORS, EXHIBITORS + Silent Auction Contributors
 (Frequent additions!!)

Alabama Dept. of Mental Health-Office of Autism Services
Down Syndrome Alabama
The Exceptional Foundation
Alabama Dept. of Rehabilitation Services
Unless U
Alabama Parent Education Center, Inc.
The Horizons School
Child Enhancement With A Purpose (UCP)

Glenwood, inc.
Regional Autism Network
Special Equestrians
Alabama Department of Mental Health
ALL Kids--Alabama Dept. of Mental Health
Terry Doss & Co.
Triumph Services

Links 2 Learning Consulting, LLC.
Alabama ABLE Savings Plan

It's ME Handdbags


Silent Auction Contributors
Alabama Adventure
Aly Stephens Center (UAB)

Ashley Mac's
Barber Motorsports Museum
Nothing Bundt Cake
Brookwood Dermatology

Birmingham Zoo
Half Shell Oyster House
Taziki's Mediterranean
Oak Mountain Lanes
Tropical Smoothie Cafe
McWane Science Center
Mister Car Wash
Metro Diner 280
Red Mountain Theater

Smart Skin Medspa
Theater Tuscaloosa
Marriott Shoals Hotel &Spa
Morgan Creek Winery

Mississippi Aquarium


birmingham coke.jpg
bottom of page