DIR In Education Annual Conference

Please join us for the second annual DIR In Education Conference hosted by the Interdisciplinary Council on Development and Learning (ICDL). This conference will feature speakers from The Community School, Rebecca School, and Casablanca Academy, as well as a keynote presentation from Atlanta’s own Emily Rubin, MS, CCC-SLP.

To register for the conference, please click here.

Detailed Information:

The Future Is Now: Bringing Developmental Approaches into the Classroom, Dave Nelson

Keynote:  Social Emotional Engagement: The “Fuel for Learning” in the Classroom Setting, Emily Rubin
Research in the neuroscience of social emotional engagement fosters our ability to support children with autism while supporting a universal design for learning for all students.  When school communities gain knowledge of a social and emotional scope and sequence of skills and how to facilitate student growth in these domains, we create a positive school climate that is focused on the success of every student. By fostering student engagement, presenting information in multiple ways, and promoting student participation, the classroom setting becomes a more desirable and predictable environment for our students to learn.

The Importance of Family Support, Dave Nelson
In order for specialized school programs to be truly effective, collaboration with families must be a part of the equation. Parents need frequent communication to understand what’s happening at school; they also benefit from developing a deeper understanding of the approaches and goals of the program for their student. In addition, families are often under stress, and school programs can be an effective support system, helping families to develop more successful ways of interacting with their student and supporting them during non-school hours. As students transition through adolescence and into adulthood, the challenges facing families can increase, and the most effective programs can support families in making that transition more smoothly.

Using his own parenting experience as a starting point, Dave Nelson, Executive Director of The Community School will discuss what schools can do to be more effective, and what parents can do to get the most benefit from their child’s school.

Experiential Learning for Core Subjects, Melissa Burton
How to help students learn meaningfully by getting fully engaged in the material. This presentation will outline a four step approach to creating an engaging classroom environment through the use of meaningful lessons and engaging/interested based material. Each of the in depth examples from each step will demonstrate how to create an experiential based classroom and how doing so has helped my students strengthen their core capacities while still learning the required core subject matter.

On Becoming a DIR School, Sarah Champ and Marina Aviles
This case presentation will outline Casablanca Academy’s journey to become the only DIR/Floortime school in South Florida. We will be discussing specific practices that make CBA different from other programs for students with developmental disabilities in the area. Some of the topics to be discussed include: Goals and Assessments (developmental and individual), Student Profiles (sensory processing, passions and learning styles), How We Teach (process over product), Teacher Support (Training programs and consultation), and Family Support (Family programs).

CBA is known to provide an alternative for students with severe challenges, that otherwise would be lagging in typical special education setting. The small ratios and size of the program are ideal to provide meaningful education to students that need greater support in developing foundational skills necessary to move up the developmental ladder. The demographic trend of the school, however, brings challenges of its own. Complex profiles, non-verbal students and a wide range of ages and abilities in the same classrooms are forever a work in progress. How does a teacher support those skills and fills in the developmental gaps? How are the non-verbal students taught?

In this case study, the participants will have the opportunity to appreciate how those pieces have come together over the years, to achieve a school program that changes the lives of the students and their families through the DIR/Floortime framework.  

Post 21 DIR Support: A New Model, Gil Tippy
More than half a million persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) aged out of the educational system in the United States over the last five years. At age 21, those affected with autism virtually lose all of their support services including the educational component with professional teachers and licensed therapists. To answer this need, Dr. Tippy has created a model program in Sonoma County, CA, based in DIR/Floortime principles. This program provides the continuing education clients need to be able to live a more productive life and have the opportunity to contribute to society. The model is designed to account for the vagaries of autism intervention support from state to state. Because the model calls for placing a storefront in an economic development zone, calls for using a small, local organic farm, provides nutritionally whole food to lower SES families, and creates internships for alternative learners, multiple grant funding sources are available to each local group. This leads to increasing stability, and provides a multi-legged stool of support, where most ASD centers count on government support alone, at their peril. The model will be explained from the position of the DIR/Floortime model for clients 21 years old and older.

The Priorities of a DIR Teacher…In a Not So DIR World, Petra Daitz
This presentation will discuss what it looks like to create and nurture a respectful classroom community for a wide variety of learners, specifically adolescent learners. We will explore the various ways academics can be folded into this classroom community without losing focus on the social, emotional and sensory needs of each learner. We will also explore the challenges that come along with trying to run a truly DIR classroom while still having to answer to traditional education standards.

Educating Autistic Children: A View from the Inside, Beth Champ
This panel, comprised of autistic young adults, will be a reflection on their own educational experiences.  The group will talk about what worked for them in terms of learning styles, teaching styles and school environments.  They have experiences ranging from large public schools to small specialized private programs; from full inclusion classrooms to private individual tutoring.  They will discuss the merits of each of these types of structures and offer advice on best practices.  In addition, the panel will discuss what kinds of educational systems and interventions did not work well and offer insight on why these efforts failed.  They will offer advice and insight from the perspective of those being educated, both in terms of the content and goals of education, but more importantly the process of learning.  

Marina Aviles

Marina Aviles has been with Casablanca Academy since 2012. Her main role is to provide DIR/Floortime support to the school staff, the students and parents. Her previous experience with business management has enabled her to support the school administration with program development and overall functioning. She has an Associates Degree in Arts and is currently finishing her BA in Exceptional Student Education. She is certified as a Basic DIR®/Floortime Practitioner and has attended a number of conferences and trainings related to the Floortime model. Through her journey, Marina has discovered that the application of the Floortime model really do make a difference in children’s lives, their families and the community.


Melissa Burton

Melissa is a teacher at The Community School.  She teaches a variety of core academic subjects, as well as some art classes. Melissa leads social thinking play groups and is a master at including creativity in play and learning. She has a B.S. in Art Education and holds a Georgia teaching certificate in Art and Special Education.

Beth Champ, MS, MBA, LPC

Beth Champ is the Director of the Young Adults in Transition Program at The Community School. Before joining The Community School, Beth was the Associate Director for Career Counseling at Emory University for three years, working primarily with graduate students. Prior to transitioning into counseling, Beth worked as a strategy consultant in the health care field for eight years, living in Dallas and Los Angeles.

Beth has an M.S. in Counseling from Georgia State University, as well as an M.S. in Chemistry and an M.B.A. from UCLA. She is licensed as a professional counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia and is a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has an Advanced DIR Certificate from the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning Disorders and has presented locally and nationally on such topics as sexuality and autism, and higher level thinking in adolescents and young adults.

Sarah Champ, MS

Sarah Champ is a Senior Teacher at The Community School. In addition to teaching classes in core and elective subjects, she also works with staff in the areas of student assessment and academic goal setting. Sarah has also worked at The Hirsch Academy, where she worked as their Floortime Specialist. While at Hirsch, Sarah provided DIR/Floortime intervention and social skills training.  She also created a parent education series addressing Floortime and other topics. She has worked for DeKalb County as an Interrelated Teacher with students with moderate disabilities. Sarah holds a B.S. in Theater from Reed College and an M.A. in Education from California Polytechnic State University. She holds an intermediate level DIR certification.

Petra Daitz, MS Ed

Petra is a classroom teacher at Rebecca School in New York City where she has learned and worked since 2011. Petra received a Master’s degree from Hunter College in August 2015 and holds an intermediate level DIR certification.

Dave Nelson, MS, MBA, LPC

Dave is the Executive Director of The Community School. Dave is involved in every aspect of the entire program, including teaching and support, curriculum design, and administration. He is a licensed counselor (LPC) who specializes in working with children, adolescents, adults, and their families with a focus on developing the interactive, emotional, and learning capabilities of all individuals. He also specializes in helping parents understand and address the variety of issues in nurturing the growth of a challenging child.

Based on his experience using Stanley Greenspan’s Developmental, Individual-difference, Relationship-based approach (DIR/Floortime) with his own son who was diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder at age three, he changed careers to begin working with children facing developmental and learning challenges. Dave has an M.S. in Counseling and an M.A. in English Literature from Georgia State University, as well as an M.B.A. from Duke University. He is licensed as a professional counselor in the state of Georgia. He has a DIR expert certificate and is a DIR Training Leader.

Emily Rubin, MS, CCC-SLP

Emily Rubin is the director of Communication Crossroads, a private practice in Atlanta, GA. She is a speech-language pathologist specializing in Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, and related social learning disabilities. As an adjunct faculty member and lecturer at Yale University, she has served as a member of their Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic. She has also served as an instructor for the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department of Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts where she has developed courses to prepare graduate level students for addressing the needs of children with autism and their families. Her publications have focused on early identification of autism, contemporary intervention models, and programming guidelines for high functioning autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. She recently participated as a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s Ad Hoc Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a committee charged with developing guidelines related to the role of speech-language pathologists in the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of ASD. She lectures internationally and provides consultation to educational programs serving children and adolescents with autism and related developmental disorders.

Gil Tippy, PsyD

Gil Tippy is the author of Respecting Autism with Stanley Greenspan, MD.  He is a Clinical Psychologist licensed in the State of New York. He has a DIR expert certificate and is a DIR Training Leader.

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