One day really can change your life. Those who attend Metro Parent’s Living With Autism Workshop call it transformative, helpful, inspirational and connective.

Our 12th annual Living With Autism Workshop event was held on Friday, April 5, 2019 at the Detroit Marriott Troy. It featured two keynote speakers and expert-led breakout sessions for parents, teachers and other professionals.

See the details from the 2019 workshop below. And stay tuned for information on the 2020 event.

Keynote speaker Anita Lesko

Speaker, author and registered nurse anesthetist, Anita Lesko will talk about visualization and “Rewiring Your Brain for Success.” You can read more about Lesko at her website, anitalesko.com. She was diagnosed at age 50 with Asperger’s syndrome. “The pieces fell into place,” she says of learning about Asperger’s and coming to realization of its impact in her life. Read more about Anita.

Kenote speaker Frank Campagna

Do you have a son entering puberty? Frank Campagna, aka the Autism Daddy, writes about his son entering puberty early and what it’s meant for him and his family. Not more aggression in his son, but a LOT more of him sleeping, he says. Campagna’s keynote will address a host of parenting issues: “Things No One Ever Told Me About After My Kid Was Diagnosed with Autism.” Read more about Frank.

Videos of the 2019 keynote speakers

- Advertisement -

Check out these videos our keynote speakers made just for Metro Parent:

Agenda for the 2019 workshop

  • Registration: 7:30-8 a.m.
  • Expert Panel: 8:10-8:50 a.m.
  • Keynote Speaker Frank “Autism Daddy” Campagna: 9-10:15 a.m.
  • Breakout Session #1: 10:25-11:25 a.m.
  • Lunch: 11:25-11:55 a.m.
  • Breakout Session #2 : 12:05-1:05 p.m.
  • Breakout Session #3: 1:20-2:20 p.m.
  • Keynote Speaker Anita Lesko: 2:30-4 p.m.
  • Closing and Book Signing: 4:00-4:25 p.m.

Details for the 2019 keynotes and breakouts

Keynote, Frank “Autism Daddy” Campagna: 9-10:15 a.m.
“Things No One Ever Told Me About After My Kid Was Diagnosed with Autism”

Breakout Session #1 (pick one of four options): 10:25-11:25 a.m

Maximizing Potential: Collaboration Between ABA and Therapies in Intervention for Young Children with ASD (Christy Schweitzer, Stuart Segal, and Chelsea Sporn, Henry Ford Health System)

Many different therapies are often recommended when young children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parents often have difficulty deciding which ones to choose and how to obtain the best help for their child. This presentation explains the functions of applied behavior analysis (ABA) and speech therapies for young children with ASD – and describes a collaborative model between ABA and speech therapy to help children make the most gains in early communication skills.

Health Care Transition Steps for Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Tisa Johnson, M.D., Henry Ford Health System)

Health care providers consistently show they lack a systematic way to support youth, families, and young adults in transition from pediatric to adult health care. Youth, especially YSHCN, are ill- prepared for the change from a pediatric to an adult approach to health care. The result is gaps in needed medical care, decreased quality of health care, and increased urgent or emergent health care utilization. Dr. Johnson will share her experience with a health care transition (HCT) quality improvement initiative and provide a framework for youth and their families to begin to think about HCT. At the conclusion of this workshop, you will know how to:

  • Define health care transition and understand its significance
  • Identify health care transition goals for youth with ASD
  • Explore health care transition strategies that can be implemented throughout adolescence and discuss the importance of early planning for transition
  • Describe legal matters to consider for families and individuals with ASD

Boosting Motivation & Overcoming Life’s Stressors for Those with Autism (Ron Sandison, Adult with ASD and author of “A Parent’s Guide to Autism”)

Learn practical methods to motivate individuals on the spectrum to learn new life skills, prepare for transition and gain independence. Ron examines the common hindrances to growth, decision-making and independence and ways to overcome them. Many young adults with autism experience severe depression and anxiety due to their lack of social interaction, a failure complex, perfectionist mindset and sensory issues. Educators and parents will be equipped to help individuals on the spectrum overcome issues like fear of failure, perfectionist mindset and other issues that are holding them back from fulfilling their full potential.

Four Principles of Fostering Individual Advocacy in Those with ASD (Gary Abud Jr. and Janice Abud, MAT CTP-E)

Learn how to not only get your child’s needs met – but also get them truly seen. This session will boost your advocacy skills to the A game. But it’s not just about parent and professionals. Get tips on how to help those with autism learn how to self-advocate, so they too can ensure their needs are met and their given a fair chance to succeed. Remember: It’s about equity, not equality, and every person on the spectrum deserves the services, considerations and accommodations to help level the playing field and improve their quality of life.

Lunch: 11:25-11:55 a.m.

Breakout Session #2 (pick one of four options): 12:05-1:05 p.m.

Behavior Management Bootcamp for Parents and Caregivers (Sarah Porter and Mariana Fraga, MEd, BCBA, Henry Ford Health System)

We outline simple behavior management strategies that can help you manage your child’s challenging behaviors at home. We’ll share our knowledge, expertise and “lessons learned” after working with and training many caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorders.

The Big Picture: Preparing Adolescents for Life After ABA and IEPs (Elizabeth Bistrong, M.Ed, Jennifer Longoria, Ph.D.; Henry Ford Health System)

Navigating the transition between adolescence and young adulthood can be particularly challenging for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) due to the decline in available programs and services. We will discuss obstacles to transitions that should be on the horizon for families regarding planning for occupational, academic and independent living pursuits. Learn more about how local and statewide programs for young adults with ASD can help your child after high school graduation.

Self-Management Strategies for Students with ASD, Part I (Maureen Ziegler, Ed.S., START at Grand Valley State)

The first of this two-part session with one of Michigan’s top special education experts will focus on pivotal self-management strategies to aid those on the spectrum who struggle with behavior challenges and emotional outbursts that get in the way of their education and their life as a whole. Although teachers and family members initially may play a major role in the implementation of a self-management system, ultimately, the responsibility for ongoing use of the system should be passed to the student as much as possible. This session provides participants with instruction on how to individualize a self-management system for a student with ASD. This includes the steps needed for a student to learn to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, monitor and record their own behaviors, and reward themselves for meeting a specified goal.

Job Ready: A Pilot’s Checklist for Caregivers (Tammy Morris, Chief Program Officer, Autism Alliance of Michigan)

The Autism Alliance of Michigan has worked with thousands of adults on the autism spectrum through case management and the Upbound at Work employment program. The insights of adults with autism have offered more insight and understanding of autism than any clinical resource. Through case review, valuable lessons learned about prioritizing supports and services, and even the way that we look at an autism diagnosis, are revisited.

Breakout Session #3 (pick one of four options): 1:20-2:20 p.m.

How to Teach Your Child to Eat Different Foods at Home (Hannah Tilton and Mariana Fraga, MEd, BCBA, Henry Ford Health System)

Is mealtime a constant battle at home? This presentation teaches some simple tips to help make mealtime a better experience for parents and children. Using the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA), we will teach you what to do (and what not to do) to help your child break his or her food selectivity.

Unplugging: Setting Limits for Media Use (Elizabeth Bistrong, M.Ed, Jennifer Longoria, Ph.D., and Jannel Phillips, Ph.D. ABPP-CN; Henry Ford Health System)

From iPads to televisions to smartphones, screens have become an ever-present part of our daily lives. As use of screens has become integrated even into school curriculum, it can be confusing and overwhelming to set limits and understand appropriate use. When does screen time become too much? How does the use of screens differ in a child with ASD? In this talk, we will discuss answers to these questions by describing how screen use differs in children with ASD – and how to set appropriate limits for screen use.

Self-Management Strategies for Students with ASD, Part II (Maureen Ziegler, Ed.S., START at Grand Valley State)

The second of this two-part session with one of Michigan’s top special education experts will focus on pivotal self-management strategies to aid those on the spectrum who struggle with behavior challenges and emotional outbursts that get in the way of their education and their life as a whole. Although teachers and family members initially may play a major role in the implementation of a self-management system, ultimately, the responsibility for ongoing use of the system should be passed to the student as much as possible. This session provides participants with instruction on how to individualize a self-management system for a student with ASD. This includes the steps needed for a student to learn to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, monitor and record their own behaviors, and reward themselves for meeting a specified goal.

Parent Panel: The Greatest Advice for the Toughest Topics (Jennifer Lovy, Maria Montoya, Ron Sandison)

Looking for potty training tricks? Stimming solutions? Ideas for finding time to unwind or maybe even “get down” with your spouse? Nothing is sacred in this parent-to-parent session where the questions and answers will fly. Tap into other parents’ trial-and-error experiences to find out what’s worked for them and how it might for you, and share your tried-and-true tips for making a difference in the lives of other autism families.

Keynote, Anita Lesko: 2:30-4 p.m.
“Visualization & Neuroplasticity: Re-Wiring Your Brain For Success!”

Closing and Book Signing: 4-4:25 p.m.


More about the 2019 keynote speakers


Anita Lesko in outdoor setting.

Anita Lesko was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 50. She graduated from Columbia University in New York City with a master of science degree in nurse anesthesia in 1988. Lesko has been working full time ever since as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, specializing in anesthesia for neurosurgery, organ transplants and orthopedic joint replacement surgery.  

Lesko was a speaker at the United Nations in New York City for World Autism Awareness Day 2017, and recently spoke at the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, DC. 

Anita Lesko as a nurse anesthetist.
Anita Lesko is a nurse anesthetist.

Her husband, Abraham, also has autism. They opened their wedding to the public to show that individuals with autism have a need for love, relationships and marriage just like everyone else. The event attracted international media attention, including from People magazine and “Good Morning America.”

Lesko has written two award-winning books, and has another book to be released April 1, “Visualization and Autism: Re-Wiring Your Brain for Success,” with her strategy for visualization along with documented evidence-based research from the pioneering researchers who started the “neuroplasticity” revolution.

Her previous books are:

  • The Complete Guide to Autism & Healthcare, in which Lesko combined her autism and 30 years’ experience as a medical professional to help educate health care providers about autism and how to best communicate with individuals on the spectrum.  This book was recently awarded the Temple Grandin Literary Award from the Autism Society of America, for the book having the greatest impact on the autism community. This book has also made its way into medical schools as part of required reading for fourth-year medical students.
  • Temple Grandin: The Stories I Tell My Friends. Lesko speaks at numerous autism conferences around the country with Temple Grandin, a leader in autism awareness and a frequent speaker at Metro Parent’s Living With Autism Workshop.

Anita Lesko takes flight

Lesko also became an internationally published military aviation photojournalist and got a flight in an F-15 fighter jet at Eglin AFB 33rd Fighter Wing, and a flight in a Navy TH-57 Sea Ranger helicopter at NAS Whiting Field. She spent time with the world’s most elite flight demonstration squadron, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, at their squadron at NAS Pensacola.

Lesko says her biggest accomplishment in life was taking her mother’s advice to use the power of the mind.  It was that power which enabled her to break free of so many of the constraints of autism to have a successful 30+ year career, a happy marriage and a fulfilling life. Now she is inspiring others to unlock the power they have within. She started out as a clumsy, uncoordinated kid with a myriad of sensory, social and learning issues to overcome.  Lesko nor her parents knew of her autism. What they did know was that Lesko’s perseverance was unwavering despite the endless obstacles she faced. Nothing was handed to her, and everything was achieved through hard work.

Lesko is a big fan of horse therapy for individuals on the autism spectrum.  She fell in love with horses at age 2, then became a working student at a nearby stable at age 12.  Her dream was to ride show jumpers. In exchange for hard physical labor of mucking out endless stalls, over the next 10 years Lesko achieved her goal, jumping horses over 6-foot-high fences in open jumping competition.  It was all those hours working and on the back of a horse that she overcame so many of the issues associated with autism.

After learning she’s on the autism spectrum at the age of 50, Lesko says she has realized that all her struggles served to make her stronger and more resilient.  

You can read more about Lesko at her website, anitalesko.com


Autism Daddy website page

“Autism Daddy” Frank Campagna is the father to a 15-year-old son with classic autism. He writes about his experiences and has become a social media sensation with his blog and Facebook page. His claim to fame is giving people a realistic, nonsugar-coated look at the world inside an autism household — the good and the bad… the pee and the poop.  Frank has also worked at Sesame Street for the past 24 years, and worked closely on its recent autism initiative, “Sesame Street & Autism:  See Amazing in All Children.”

Autism Daddy will speak on “Things No One Ever Told Me After My Son Was Diagnosed With Autism.” This presentation aims to show, in a humorous way, how to be a great special needs parent without losing all of your former self in the process.  Autism Daddy will talk about all the really important things that somehow fall through the cracks.  Here’s a sneak peak at Campagna from his very first speaking gig, nearly four years ago.


Presented by

Sponsored by

Gateway Pediatric Therapy logo 


If you are interested in exhibiting at this event, submit your application here.