Conference for Professionals, Caregivers, and Self-Advocates: Autism Sexuality Education – Navigating Relationships, Avoiding Victimization, and Becoming Empowered


A Full Day Conference for Professionals, Caregivers, and Self-Advocates

This conference will feature an interdisciplinary team of presenters who will discuss a variety of topics including:

  • The missing educational opportunities individuals with ASD/DD face, how this can lead to increased risk of “inappropriate" sexual behaviors, and strategies to support appropriate sexual behavior
  • Legal approaches to incorporate these educational opportunities and strategies into IEPs, 504 Plans, ISPs, and IHPs
  • Risk factors that make people with ASD/DD particularly vulnerable to sexual violence, victimization, criminalization, and ways to support survivors
  • The personal perspective of a woman with autism: becoming empowered to navigate relationships and avoid victimization
  • Breakfast and Lunch Included
  • Department of Education CEUs available for educators and 1.5 BACB type II CEUs available.  


8:00am - 8:45am             Check in and Breakfast

9:00am - 10:15am            Session 1: Identifying the need for Sexuality Education for Individuals with ASD/DD

Dr. Bobbie Gallagher, BCBA-D

In this session, the audience will learn about the missing educational opportunities for individuals with ASD/DD and how this may lead to other challenges including: inappropriate sexual behaviors, incarceration, and/or victimization.  Additionally, looking to the future, what strategies should be included to increase appropriate sexual behaviors, including understanding boundaries of oneself and others, identifying appropriate space for masturbation behaviors, and healthy friendships/relationships.

10:15am - 10:30am          Break

10:30am - 11:45am          Session 2: Accessing Appropriate Sex Ed From Public Schools and State Agencies

Hillary Freeman, Esq.

Attendees will learn about how to identify individual's needs and access supports under the IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Methods to challenge school districts and state agencies when they fail or refuse to respond appropriately will also be discussed.

11:45am - 12:45pm          Lunch

12:45pm - 2:00pm          Session 3: Sex Education as Abuse Prevention:  Why It is Important to Be Informed about Sexual Violence and Supports for Survivors     

Melissa Keyes DiGioia, CSE and Tracy A. Higgins, MA, LPC

People with intellectual and developmental disabilities are particularly vulnerable to experiencing exploitation and sexual violence.  In this session, attendees will learn about factors that contribute to vulnerability and ways to support a survivor of sexual violence.  Attendees will also learn about counseling and educational programming that aims to build people’s awareness of sexual violence, abuse prevention, and support for survivors.

2:00pm - 2:15pm            Break

2:15pm - 3:30pm            Session 4: Sexuality and the Spectrum: Lessons on Sex, Dating, and Love Autism Style

Amy Gravino, MA, CAS   

Individuals on the autism spectrum are sexual beings, yet they are often not taught the necessary skills to be successful in romantic relationships. This session features a firsthand personal narrative from a woman on the autism spectrum, and gives an inside perspective on both the triumphs and heartbreaks of young adulthood. The potential for using principles of Applied Behavior Analysis to teach these skills and challenges that may arise in doing so will be addressed, as well as differences between males and females on the autism spectrum and challenges they may face as they encounter adolescence, puberty, and young adulthood. Strategies for professionals and parents to discuss issues and assist individuals on the spectrum in navigating relationships, avoiding victimization, and becoming empowered will also be discussed.

3:30pm - 4:00pm          Panel Discussion with Q and A

About the Presenters

Dr. Bobbie Gallagher, BCBA-D

Autism Center for Educational Services (“ACES”)

Dr. Gallagher is a BCBA-D with her PhD in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP).   She is the Director of Clinical Training for the Online ABA Program at TCSPP and the owner of ACES.  She is the author of “A Brick Wall: How a Boy with No Words Spoke to the World.” For more than 20 years Dr. Gallagher has worked in the field of ABA, speaking nationally to educate others on the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, and for the last six years with a focus in the area of sexuality. She completed a three hour online training program for the Texas Statewide Leadership for Autism Training to assist in training teachers across the state of Texas on the sexual education needs of those with autism. As an invited speaker, Dr. Gallagher provided a workshop to the New Jersey Probation Officers. She completed her certification courses at the Florida Institute of Technology, holds a Master’s in Special Education from New Jersey City University, and a BA in Communication Studies from Monmouth University. She is the mother of three and currently resides at the Jersey Shore with her husband and two adult children with autism.

Hillary D. Freeman, Esq.

Freeman Law Offices, LLC

Hillary D. Freeman, Esq. is deeply committed to her work representing people with disabilities and their families. As the sister of a man with autism and national speaker in special education matters, she is able to combine personal experience with her legal training to help families advocate for services and supports. She has experience representing clients in special education and Section 504 issues, higher education issues including accommodations on high stakes testing and graduate school admissions tests, guardianship matters, estate planning and adult services. She was named a Rising Star℠ by Super Lawyers & Magazine for from 2013-2018. She has been honored with Robin Sims Trailblazer Award in 2015 and has presented at the United Nations for World Autism Awareness Day. She holds a JD from Widener University School of Law and practices in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Ms. Freeman is a member of Council of Parent and Attorney Advocates ("COPAA"); has been awarded the Community Partnership Award from the Family Resource Network and Family Support Center of New Jersey (2012); former Vice President of Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey; member of ASCEND: Asperger & Autism Alliance for Greater Philadelphia: Executive Board (2010-Present); Learning Disabilities Association of New Jersey (Professional Advisory Board) (2009-2012); Quest Autism Programs: Human Rights Committee (2009-2010); New Jersey State Bar Association, Elder and Disability Law Section (2008-present); Member of International Dyslexia Association (2006-present); Member of COSAC/Autism New Jersey (2005-present).

Melissa Keyes DiGioia, CSE

Co-Founder & Director of Education, Finding Your Individuality, LLC

Melissa Keyes DiGioia, CSE is a Certified Sexuality Educator by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists.  As Co-Founder and Director of Education, she facilitates professional development workshops and education sessions on varying sexuality and sexual health topics and specializes in program delivery for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Melissa is author of Taking a Special Education Approach a guide for religious educators implementing Our Whole Lives Sexuality Education for Grades 7-9 (2nd Ed.) to adapt lessons and methodology for audiences with special needs. She is coauthor of Game On! The Ultimate Sexuality Education Gaming Guide and contributing author to Unequal Partners: Teaching about Power and Consent in Adult-Teen and Other Relationships (3rd Ed), Older Wiser Sexually Smarter, and Teaching Safer Sex (Volumes 1 & 2). She has a graduate certificate in Human Sexuality from Montclair State University and received her BA with concentrations in Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies from The College of New Jersey.

Tracy A. Higgens, MA, LPC

Co-Founder & Director of Education, Finding Your Individuality, LLC

Tracy A. Higgins is an EMDR trained Licensed Professional Counselor and trained Behavior Analyst specializing in sexual trauma and abuse prevention with individuals with developmental disabilities.  Ms. Higgins has over fifteen years experience both in private practice and a staff therapist with Morris CARES.  She was responsible for the development of specialized services for survivors of sexual violence and at risk adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities.  As Director of Counseling for FYI she provides individual counseling for survivors of sexual violence as well as workshops and training to varying agencies, organizations and schools on sexual violence, behavior management, positive communication and social skills development.

Amy Gravino, M.A., CAS

Founder & President, A.S.C.O.T Consulting, LLC

Amy Gravino is a Certified Autism Specialist and the president of A.S.C.O.T Consulting. Amy offers autism consulting, mentoring, and college coaching services for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families. Amy is an international speaker who has given two TED talks and presented to numerous audiences on a variety of topics, including autism and sexuality; preventing and ending bullying; issues related to girls and autism; growing up on the spectrum; and autism and transitioning to secondary education. She also currently serves on the Boards of Specialisterne USA, Yes She Can Inc., and  the Golden Door International Film Festival of Jersey City. Amy's writing has been published in a variety of outlets, including the website The Mighty, the textbook Exceptional Children: An Introduction to Special Education, the Reader’s Digest book The Best Life Stories, “Autism Spectrum Quarterly” magazine, the official blog of Autism Speaks, and more. She is also the author of The Naughty Autie, a memoir of her experiences with dating, relationships, and sexuality from the firsthand perspective of a woman on the autism spectrum.

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