For 20 years the ASCEND Group provided support to individuals on the autism spectrum and their families through educational programs and conferences, support groups and social gatherings in the Philadelphia region. The organization has been run by an all-volunteer board over the past two decades, and Elena Perri, board president, recently announced that she is stepping down as president. Please read her message below. 

If you have any questions, please send a message to [email protected].

Dear members, 

I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as ASCEND’s president for the past five years. However, I am stepping down as president of the ASCEND Group as of July 15, 2022. 

I have been a volunteer with ASCEND for more than 10 years and served in various roles. Now, it is time for me to pursue other interests. Unfortunately, none of the volunteers on our board are able to take on leadership of the organization, so the ASCEND Group will likely cease operations by the end of this year.

Eric Mitchell and Nanci Goldenberg from Neurodiversity Consultants and Beth Rosenwasser from JCHAI (Judith Creed Horizons for Achieving Independence) are discussing a transition plan for Chips, Chocolate and Chat. Eric, Nanci and Beth are planning to continue offering these monthly gatherings on the JCHAI campus. Margot Stein, who has been facilitating the virtual parent support group, has decided to discontinue these sessions. Participants have been provided resource material and will still have the opportunity to communicate with one another via email. A list of local autism support resources is attached with this message or you can click this link to the Google document.

ASCEND’s 800-member MeetUp Group has been dormant during the past two years because of the pandemic and a lack of volunteers to host events. The MeetUp group does not have a facilitator at this time, so its future is uncertain. Please contact me if you know anyone who would be willing to inject enthusiasm into the MeetUp Group. 

When Deirdre Wright founded the ASCEND Group in 2002, the mission of the organization was to serve the autism community in the Philadelphia area, particularly for individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and their families and caregivers. The primary focus at that time was increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders and providing support through educational programs and conferences, parent groups and social activities. The autism community has changed significantly since the ASCEND Group was founded.

During the past 20 years, the number of autism-focused organizations, agencies and service providers skyrocketed in response to the increase in individuals diagnosed with autism. Many educational institutions such as St. Joseph’s University, La Salle University, West Chester University, Arcadia University and Drexel University have developed a myriad of programs to support individuals on the autism spectrum.

ASCEND, a volunteer-run organization since 2002, has provided support and educational programming for countless parents, caregivers, professionals, and individuals on the autism spectrum. Through the leadership of those who served as president, Deirdre Wright, Dawn Hoyt, Maleita Olson and myself, the mission of the organization was accomplished. Volunteer board members who helped organize the annual conferences, support group meetings and social activities also made significant contributions over the years. A special thanks is extended to Sandy Thapsem for all the work she has done over the past eight years in providing administrative support for ASCEND. 

Thank you for supporting ASCEND by joining the organization as a professional member, family member or individual member. Some of you have been members for a long time. You will always have my thanks for your loyalty and support. Please know that we will gladly provide a refund if you paid your annual membership dues within the last six months.

Having the opportunity to serve the autism community has brought me a great deal of personal satisfaction. I wish all of you the best in the future. Please feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn or contact me via email.

Sincerely yours,


Elena Perri

My contact information is below:

Email address: [email protected]