August 2020






Chips, Chocolate
and Chat Gatherings

Our Chips, Chocolate and Chat gatherings will be on hiatus in July and August. We hope the gatherings will resume in person in September. More details will be shared later this summer.

ASCEND Professional Events

1) Individual Therapy with Parent Support and Training

Therapy will be available both in-person and telehealth to meet your family's medical and comfort needs.

CFATC's unique therapy approach treats a wide range of childhood emotional, behavioral, and social challenges. We help clients at four levels: 1) Teaching CBT-inspired coping skills, 2) Unblocking stuck emotions with creative art-play and verbal therapy, 3) Forming and practicing relationships with healthy attachment and boundaries, and 4) Training caregivers in supportive structure and strategies. Info about individual therapy.

2) The Art of Friendship Social-Coping Program @Home

The Art of Friendship Social-Coping Program @Home counteracts social distancing
isolation and skill regression.

It isn't safe to gather in groups just yet, but our social skills group therapists innovated creative ways to make virtual social skills therapy engaging and successful. Visit our social skills site.

Connect Plus Therapy: Camp In-A-Box

CAMP IN-A-BOX is an exciting summer solution created by Connect Plus Therapy for children on the Autism Spectrum. Your child deserves the best. With expert clinical knowledge from BCBAs and super fun Behavioral Technicians we will provide CAMP IN-A-BOX customized for your child's needs. Insurance-based program. Check eligibility today.

We Have Your Box!


Hill Top Prep Summer Adventures Online


We are happy to announce that we will be able to give our families a unique online summer program this year. While we hope that we will be able to have our summer programs as usual (or as close to usual as we can), we are fully prepared to offer a number of fun and exciting programs and activities online. We're also happy to share that due to various considerations, we will be offering a 30% discount to our camp tuition if we are providing our summer programs online. So we encourage you to sign up as usual using our registration portal. We've created a few payment options for families to have as much flexibility as possible. You may want to either pay just the deposit for now, or register without paying anything until we know exactly what we are able to provide. Below you'll find information about how to register, as well as a brief overview of what we're planning to do with our online programs.

Summer Camp Overview
Our regular summer camp program will feature a variety of activities. First, we'll have daily scheduled live activities, including STEM projects, arts and crafts, cooking, Minecraft, gardening, games, etc. We'll provide a list of supplies in advance. These will be led by our counselors as usual. We will also have weekly modules of guided activities that campers can complete on their own time, with support from our counselors as needed. Finally, we will be providing campers with access to an online library of self-guided coding and STEM projects and courses. Live support will be available if needed, too. These activities will be optional, so that campers can choose the activity or manner of participation that is best for them.

As in previous years, campers will have access to daily academic and writing support via Google Hangouts, as well as access to clinical support as needed. While we won't be able to enjoy field trips as we did previously, we will lead the campers through some virtual field trips. 

We're also introducing an optional, after-school Esports program for campers who would like to have the opportunity to compete in a formal gaming league. The games we're able to offer for now include Super Smash Bros, Minecraft, and Fortnite. This is an additional, but small, cost, so please contact me ([email protected]) separately if you're interested.

Pathways/Innovators Overview
Pathways To Independence and Summer Innovators will share some resources and activities. This program will consist of daily scheduled live sessions, and daily independent time to work on projects and other activities. These campers will also have access to our online library of online courses and projects with live support. Due to the nature of the program, the live sessions will be required so that students can get the effect of instruction.

Monday college visits will continue, but in a virtual manner. Mrs. Gillespie is planning to lead campers through 2 online visits every Monday. And like Summer Camp, clinical support is available as needed and the optional Esports program is available, too.

Please feel free to email if you have any questions for us. We've been working hard to create an online program that will still provide good benefits to our students and help them stay sharp over the summer and be more prepared for our return to campus. We hope you'll join us for this unique new program!

Thanks, and stay safe!


Note from Hill Top Prep School

I am reaching out to let you know that there is financial assistance available for families who may be on the fence about considering private school/Hill Top Prep because of the cost. We appreciate your support of Hill Top Prep, and if you have any questions about our program, please feel free to reach out. Thank you for continuing to send us extraordinary students!
Kind regards,

Program Description

Hill Top Profile

Upcoming Special Needs Zoom Workshops

Our complimentary workshops are focused on empowering and educating families who have dependents with special needs giving them clear, actionable information that can be used to understand and build a responsible financial lifestyle. Our small and interactive seminars will be led by popular financial speaker, Pat Bergmaier, and will provide a comfortable setting in which attendees can learn how to take control of their present and future financial planning. As a follow-up, individual meetings may be scheduled to focus on your personal financial situation without distraction.

Please feel free to share with others and find us on Facebook to be kept up to date on new events and workshops too! Send your questions to Pat Bergmaier.

Tuesday August 4th, 7pm EST

Hosted by: Theraplay

Tuesday August 11th 3-4pm EST

Hosted by: Arc of Lehigh & Northampton Counties

Wednesday August 19th 1pm EST

Hosted by: Penn Mutual South

Wednesday August 26th 1pm EST

Hosted by: Penn Mutual South

If you and your group of friends/families you know want to do something just for your group - please reach out!

School district employees, therapy providers, supports coordinators, etc interested in hosting a workshop for your families - let us know!

Should your employer be offering something similar?-- Please reach out to Pat!

Remember, life will continue after this. The opportunities being presented right now with the stock market, tax law changes and Covid-19 related insurance changes (not good ones) really call for the need to plan NOW. Please do not hesitate to call to schedule an initial meeting via Zoom. 

Stay well!

 Local Events


Navigating Relationships Webinar

The Philadelphia Autism Project, in collaboration with Lamar Hardwick, D.Min., is excited to announce our upcoming webinar series on this highly requested topic. Dr. Hardwick will speak about common barriers people on the spectrum face in navigating relationships, provide helpful strategies, and answer your questions during a live Q&A.  

Marriage and Children
Thursday, August 6 from 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM

Register here.

BCBA for Helping Hands Family

Provides in-home and in-clinic ABA services to children with Autism. Our clinic is located in Malvern, PA but is closed at this time. Even though our clinic is closed, we are available for home services. If we can help you with requests from displaced clients or, on a very temporary basis, with your own services, please reach out. Council for Autism Service Providers (CASP) has confirmed that we are considered an essential service at this time and are taking all precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of all. They continue to provide guidance on the best ways to provide these necessary services during this time.
We can provide temporary or ongoing support to children with either in-home services or through tele-health. We also are able to do intake and carry out initial assessments for children who have an autism diagnosis and need to start receiving ABA services. These services are paid through private insurance and can begin immediately. For more information, call 610-316-5902 or email:    [email protected].

Kristina Vacha's Groups
Kristina Vacha, Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW, LBS, MSS, MA 

(Now accepting Cigna for outpatient therapy). Kristina is 
providing teletherapy during the quarantine period in the form of individual and group sessions. She will waive the fee for each client's first individual session or group session.

As some people are facing financial challenges during this time, she is offering behavior support/therapy at reduced rates based on your financial situation. If your child or adult child has a state waiver, the agencies should be allowing your assigned behavior therapist to provide teletherapy for the duration of stay-at-home order. This is currently being offered by the Devereux  CARES Community Adult Autism Partnership Program (CAAPP).
If you are a parent working from home, you should be able to set up online therapy with your regular therapist. If you don't have a regular therapist, your employer may be able to match you with a therapist providing online therapy through your Employee Assistance Program.
 Kristina is running her groups by teletherapy: 
1. Women approx in 20s on Mondays at 11
2. Men 24-35 Wednesday evening. Varied education high school to associates, employed part time or unemployed
3. College Co-Ed for college grads who are working full time in professional positions. I sometimes include college students.  
All groups promote increased understanding of living as an adult on the spectrum, address adult issues like employment, independent living, relationships and dating, and provide peer support.  
If you feel you need support and are not sure how to proceed or you are looking for a group, Kristina is available for a free phone consultation.
Kristina Vacha, LCSW
484-274-8957, [email protected]



C.A.S.T. Productions

Do you know about C.A.S.T. Productions? It stands for community of Actors Sharing in Theater. It is an INCLUSIVE and ACCESSIBLE theater company designed for people who may identify as disabled or having special needs.

Every weekday through August 15, there will be a live virtual C.A.S.T. activity led by a team member at 4:00 PM.

Each activity will last roughly 30-45 minutes. Hannah will lead sing-a-longs on Mondays; Corri will help you create some fabulous crafts on Tuesdays; Sam will host a game on Wednesdays; Karalyn will lead an acting class on Thursdays; and Lisa will teach you some fun dances on Fridays. This will be in addition to our social hour at 2 PM on Saturdays.

The attached calendar specifies what will be happening each day so you can plan ahead and decide which activities you'd like to attend. The activities themselves are not cumulative, so you are welcome to join in whenever you'd like, any days you'd like, all free of charge. You are also encouraged to invite your friends to join in virtually!



Webinar: Students with IEPs for 2020/2021- What Families Need to Know

The Bureau of Special Education, PA Department of Education is hosting a webinar on Tuesday, August 11 from 12:00-1:30 PM to provide an overview for families of key components of the guidance being provided to schools. You can learn more about the webinar here. You can submit your questions in advance to identify topics that are important to you. Questions can be submitted until Monday, August 3 at:

FREE Virtual Conference Opportunity

Mental Health America

2020 Annual Conference: Free for everyone!
In light of current events, MHA's 2020 Conference: COVID-19, Mental Health and the Need for Equity, will take place as planned September 3-4 (pre-conference September 2) and will now be completely virtual and free of charge.

The program will run from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM on both days (with breaks of course!) and will cover topics like COVID-19 and mental health implications, systemic racism and trauma on BIPOC, the emotional impact of COVID-19 and current events on kids, and much more. Stay tuned in the coming days and weeks for more details including exciting speaker updates and registration information.

Father's Support Group

The Autism Institute is excited to offer a support group for fathers with children on the autism spectrum in partnership with Dr. Robert Naseef, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Alternative Choices and and Dr. Michael Hannon, Ph.D., Assistant Professor or Counseling at Montclair State University.

Zoom meeting:
Saturday, August 29 from 10:00-11:00 AM.
Email: [email protected] for meeting information.


The Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education is pleased to announce the following virtual conference:

Together at Home: Back2School

Date/Location: Wednesday, August 19

Time: 5:30-8:00 PM

Together at Home: Back2School is a virtual conference designed specifically for families and students as they prepare to return to school. How do we adjust to routines, busier schedules, and a new school year. The 20-minute sessions planned for this evening will address topics on the minds of students and families in an open, conversational format. Come ready to share your ideas and experiences, as well as your questions and concerns as we discuss strategies for preparing our return to school.

This web-based conference which requires each participant to log in separately to each session using the links that will be provided closer to the scheduled event.

All participants interested in earning Act 48 clock hours must login to ZOOM on a device individually. Individual registrants must stay for the duration of the conference and must complete the conference evaluation survey with session codes within one week of the conference to be eligible to receive ACT 48 clock hours.

Participants are encouraged to test their computers/devices prior to the date of the conference using, and to seek local assistance if you encounter difficulty.

There will be multiple presenters

Registration Information:
Registration will be available beginning Monday, August 10. Use the link below, go to August 19 and click on the name of the event on the Training Events Calendar at:

For content related information and questions, please contact Kim Jenkins, [email protected], PaTTAN East 610-878-7206.

For general registration information and questions, please contact Yolanda McDermott, [email protected], PaTTAN East



AECOM is Recruiting Qualified Individuals with Disabilities at its Conshohocken Office

AECOM is a premier, fully integrated infrastructure and support services firm. AECOM is ranked as the #1 engineering design firms by revenue in Engineering News-Record magazine's annual industry rankings and has been named as one of Fortune magazine's World's Most Admired Companies for the third consecutive year. The company is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, oil and gas, water, high-rise buildings and government. AECOM provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world's built, natural and social environments. AECOM has nearly 100,000 employees and serves more than 150 countries offering global expertise. For more information about AECOM please refer to our brochure or visit our website at To view our "How To Apply Online Guide," click here. You can view the Conshohocken job postings here. Some include intern, management and engineering positions. 
New positions in our area:

New! Project Engineer
AECOM - Philadelphia, PA
New! Superintendent
AECOM - Bristol, PA
New! Mechanical Engineer
AECOM - Philadelphia, PA
New! Associate Directors, EHS
AECOM - Philadelphia, PA
New! Design Engineer - Water Resources
AECOM - Conshohocken, PA

Research Studies

In the interest of promoting autism awareness, we feel it is important to help spread the word about autism spectrum research studies that are being conducted in our area. Use this Research Study Form to submit If you would like to submit your study.

In the interest of promoting autism awareness and research studies in our area, we are giving individuals and organizations the opportunity to advertise their research studies in future ASCEND e-newsletters and on our website, for a nominal fee without first becoming ASCEND members. Use this Research Study Form to submit your study today. 


NEW! Gender Identity Development in Youth with ASD.

The chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York is asking for assistance from parents of youth ages 6 - 25. Volunteers are encouraged to complete a short, anonymous confidential questionnaire found on the flyer linked above.


Using Network Science to Investigate Eco-systems of Employment Support for Low-Resource Youth with ASD

School: A.J. Drexel Autism Institute

Contact: Name:  Elizabeth McGhee Hassrick
Primary Email: [email protected]

 Who is this study for?

Caregivers OR school/employment providers of young adults who are:

  • 18 years old or older
  • on the autism spectrum
  • able to answer questions about employment and who helps them with employment
  • in their final year of high school or extended high school OR has left high school or extended high school in the past 3-12 months.


  • We want to learn about the resources and coordination among young adults on the autism spectrum and their team members during their transition out of school and into employment!

What will be expected of the participant?

  • You will be asked to complete each task below. In exchange, you will receive a $20 cash incentive or gift card upon completion of each task.

For more information, please read our flyer.

PSU Social Games for Adolescents with Autism (SAGA) Team

Penn State Psychology is conducting a research study for adolescents with autism.Participants will play a video game to help improve social skills. compensation up to $430.
- Have a teen ages 10-18 with autism 
- Can fill out a confidential online screening form


PARSEC is an intervention done by phone aimed at helping young adults (18-25) with ASD increase their community participation activities in non-urban areas of PA.

Volunteers needed:

Are you a young adult with autism who would like to better engage with your community? 

This study will evaluate an intervention designed to help young adults with autism increase participation in their communities. 

Contact: Jayde Nagle 717-531-0003 ext. 285543 [email protected]

The Prevalence of Genetically Linked Autism & Vitamin D Deficiency in Hispanic Families

Contact Faith Hess, RN for Thomas Jefferson University Hospital at [email protected]

The Experiences of Stigma, Stress, and Social Support Amongst Fathers of Children on the Autism Spectrum 

Are you a father of a child or teenager (ages 5-18) with autism? Have you ever felt that people don't understand what your life is like and how you feel? Have you ever been rejected, judged, or embarrassed by friends, family, or even complete strangers because you are the father of an amazing and wonderful child with autism? Your experiences as a father of a child with autism are unique and important. As a parent, you are the only person who really knows what it's like to raise a child with autism. You have experienced the ups and downs, the laughter and tears, the joy and pain. We are inviting you to participate in a research study and share your experiences of stigma, stress, and social support. Your perspective will increase our understanding of what your life is like. You can help us know how it feels to be a father of a child with autism. The entire survey should take approximately 20 minutes to complete. As a small token of appreciation for your participation, you may choose to be entered into a raffle for one of four Amazon Fire 7 tablets.

SPARK for Autism
We are enrolling any individual with autism spectrum disorder and their biological parents into the nation's largest autism study, called SPARK. The goal of SPARK is to speed up autism research and find the genetic causes of autism. All participants enroll online and then provide a saliva sample via kits that are mailed to the home. Families who return the saliva collection kits will receive compensation and access to free webinars and an interactive and informational dashboard. For more information: 267-426-4971 [email protected]


Police Safety Study
We are looking for teens and adults ages 12 and older with autism spectrum disorder to participate in a research study testing two different methods of helping people with ASD learn to interact with police officers. One method will use virtual reality (VR) and the other uses video modeling (VM). Participation in this study involves one to three visits to CAR for VR or VM intervention and complete questionnaires. Participants will be compensated for their time. For more information: Ashley Zitter [email protected]


Social and Motor Communication Study
The goal of this research study is to better understand differences in the way children with autism move their bodies and faces compared to children who are developing typically. Children who are diagnosed with ASD or who are typically developing are invited to participate in this study, which will include a visit to CAR to complete simple social skills tasks, motor behavior and language tasks as well as an IQ test. Participants will be compensated for their time and effort and will receive a brief report of their behavioral and IQ tests results. For more information: [email protected]


Orbiting - For Repetitive and Restrictive Behaviors
No two people with autism are the same. And of course we wouldn't want them to be. We're looking for children and adults with autism between the ages of 5 and 17 to join the oRBiting study. oRBiting will help us to better understand the different scales used to measure certain behaviors associated with autism. We'll also ask what wearable technologies can tell us about autism. For more information: Jessica Tschida, 


Transportation Research Study

We are looking for adults with autism ages 18 and older to participate in a study looking at the impact of travel training on use of public transportation to access the community (i.e., social events, medical appointments, work).


Wandering Research Study
Researchers at Cohen Children's Medical Center are conducting a new, national study about wandering in children with autism and other developmental disabilities. If you are the parent of a child who wanders, you may be eligible to participate. Participants will be asked to spend approximately 30 minutes completing an anonymous, online questionnaire about their child's wandering behavior. To take the survey, click on this link. For more information, contact Bridget Kiely. 


In the Media


Mom Writes Children's Book about Bubbles to Explain Social Distancing to Kids - Good Morning America

Tara Travieso a mom of two toddlers has written a book, Billie and the Brilliant Bubble, to teach physical distancing to little ones using imagery of bumping bubbles. See book here.


Some parents wonder how they'll get their kids to do that.

So Action News got advice from experts who've been training their clients - many with special needs - to do it.

Wearing a face covering is an adjustment for anyone.

But getting children to tolerate masks can take some time.
Living in Uncertain Times: Coping Strategies for Adults on the Autism Spectrum
In this hourlong webinar on demand, learn coping strategies for adults on the autism spectrum, with Stephen Shore, Ed.D.