ASCEND's Board

Providing guidance and support for ASCEND

Elena Perri, President (Delaware County)
Richard Fry, Treasurer (Delaware County)
Robert Schmus, LSW (Camden County NJ)
Sandy Shacklady-White (Chester County)
Susan Paul (Montgomery County)
Andrea Kirshenbaum (Philadelphia County)
Frank Buttaro, (Montgomery County)

Deirdre Cummins Wright, Founder and Emeritus

ASCEND’s board is comprised of family members, individuals with ASD, and professionals who work in the field of autism. See bios below.

Elena Perri is a communications professional with a communications degree from Temple University. She also received training in journalism and photography while serving in the U.S. Army Reserve. Elene has extensive journalism, public relations, editing and public speaking experience. She has been a board member of the Philadelphia chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators for more than 20 years and served in many capacities on its executive board. Elena’s personal experience with autism comes from raising her oldest son who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age six. This has helped her understand the needs and challenges faced by families in our region. She and her family live in Havertown, PA.

Richard Fry, is a finance professional who has a MBA from Temple University and has worked in non-profits for 20 years. He spent 5 years at Bancroft, an organization that serves the autistic and developmentally disabled community, in a senior management position. Richard’s personal experience with autism comes from having 2 children on the autism spectrum. Richard and his family live in Havertown, PA.  

Bob Schmus, LSW, is a young man in his mid-20’s who was diagnosed with Asperger’s at the age of 10. Bob currently works as a program counselor at Albert “Bo” Robinson Assessment and Treatment Center in Trenton NJ, counseling the corrections population. In his spare time, he is a volunteer speaker at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Reach for the Future program; helping adolescents on the spectrum transition to adulthood. Bob is also an advisory board member on a research project at Drexel University’s Autism Institute, as well as a member of the institute’s community workgroup. Bob earned his B.S. Degree in Social Work from Concordia College of New York in 2011 and an MSW degree in 2012 from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is working towards attaining his LCSW license.

Sandy Shacklady-White, M.Ed, has been employed since May 2017 as an educational consultant with the Pennsylvania Department of Education: Bureau of Special Education's Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) based out of the PaTTAN-East office. Sandy is currently on state special education initiatives for: Autism, Leadership, Procedural Safeguards, & Behavior. Additionally, she is a on the state-wide team for Pennsylvania's ESSA implementation, especially section 4 of the PA Plan for school accountability and improvement efforts. Prior to employment with PaTTAN, Sandy was a supervisor of special education for nearly 12 years working with all grades in public schools.  Prior to working as an administrator, Sandy was a special education teacher for almost 18 years in a public middle school and an approved private school. In the past she was an adjunct staff for 7 years at West Chester University in the undergraduate special education program.  She is a member of CHADD, ASCD, PASCD, PA CTESP, Penn ABA, Chester County Reading Association, CEC, and a board member at large for PA CEC.  She is currently in the dissertation phase for her doctorate degree via Arcadia University. Sandy is passionate about all things special ed!  She lives in Coatesville with her husband of 29 years and 2 furry children (cats). 

Susan Paul is an ASHA-certified speech/language pathologist with over 30 years of experience. She attended the University of Maryland and received her B.A. and M.A. from Temple University and received her teaching certificate from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As a private practitioner, Susan has consulted with child growth and development centers, schools, and early intervention programs, and has provided individual and group therapy, including social communication groups. In her private practice, Communication Imaging, LLC, she and her associates pride themselves in fostering effective and functional communication techniques by utilizing a team approach while drawing upon individuals’ strengths. Susan is an expert in the field of autism and was featured on Friendly Neighborhoods, a cable television program produced by La Salle University. Susan has presented workshops to both professionals and laypeople on the topic of autism/social communication and early language, learning and literacy development.

Andrea Kirshenbaum is the Chair of Post & Schell, P.C.’s Wage and Hour Practice Group and Principal in the firm’s Employment & Employee Relations Practice Group in Philadelphia. She defends employers nationally in federal and state court litigation involving all major employment statutes, represents them in government investigations, and counsels them proactively on compliance with these statutes. A significant portion of her practice is focused on wage and hour related compliance and litigation under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and applicable state laws governing wages and pay practices. 

Ms. Kirshenbaum is the parent of two children on the Autism spectrum. In addition to serving on ASCEND’s Board, Ms. Kirshenbaum also is a Board Member of OROT, which provides diverse learners in Jewish day schools a personalized support program addressing academic, social and behavioral needs while building confidence and promoting success.

Frank Buttaro III is the Director of Sales for New Horizons, the world’s largest independent training company.  For over 10 years, he has been providing learning solutions to organizations, helping them improve their businesses by creating and implementing various training initiatives. Frank is part of an innovative team that invests in learning models which deliver effective, accessible and personalized solutions.  He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business from the Pennsylvania State University, as well as a Master Degree in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix.  In addition to his career, he volunteers and sits on several Boards including Non-Profit, Government, and Business entities.  

His personal connection to Autism is his son, who has an Autism Spectrum Diagnosis, as well the time he spends working with several Autism charities and research organizations here in the Greater Philadelphia area. When not at work or volunteering, he loves to travel and is passionate about food and photography.

Adele Breen-Franklin

Adele Breen-Franklin is Director of the Entry-Level Doctoral Program and Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of the Sciences. Dr. Breen-Franklin received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Barnard College. She attended Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. She later decided to change careers and become an occupational therapist. She received her master’s of occupational therapy (MOT) from Philadelphia University (Now Jefferson East) and received the Award for Outstanding Achievement. 

Dr. Breen-Franklin received a clinical doctorate (OTD) in occupational therapy from Chatham College. Before teaching at University of the Sciences, she was a visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy and Coordinator of the Philadelphia Inmate Services and Healthcare Program where she worked with incarcerated women diagnosed with mental illness. Adele’s clinical practice and passion is school based practice, with a focus on transitions to post-secondary education, social participation, and working and helping parents maintain their occupational balance.

Dr. Breen-Franklin lives with her husband Ken, her sons, Nate and Aaron, and her cat OK “Tubby Wubby” Franklin.

Ev Smith - bio coming soon,

Deirdre Cummins Wright (Founder and Emeritus) launched ASCEND in 2001 with the help of many parents of children with Asperger Syndrome. She recognized a need for support for family members during a time when Asperger Syndrome was a little known disorder. ASCEND was her passion for more than 10 years. Deirdre retired from the board in 2012 knowing that the organization was in good hands and proud of all that ASCEND has accomplished in terms of providing resources, raising awareness, and building a community. Deirdre is now the Quality Manager for PA’s Adult Autism Waiver, a program that serves 300+ participants across the state.