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Home Events 2021 Milestones National Autism Conference Achievement Awards

Achievement Awards


Congratulations to the Milestones 2021
Achievement Award Recipients
Thank you for your contributions to the autism community!



Justin Meade
Autism Awareness Training and Acceptance Program

Justin Meade is a Police Officer, Crisis Intervention Specialist, and Special Needs Advocate in Northeast Ohio. He is recognized as a subject matter expert on the topics of Crisis Intervention and First Responder Interactions with individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (ID/DD) and mental health challenges.

Officer Meade founded the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Autism Awareness Training and Acceptance Program (AATAP), where he serves as the Executive Director and Chief Instructor. AATAP offers free awareness/acceptance education as well as crisis intervention and practical de-escalation training to first responders, organizations, and anyone else who is interested. AATAP also works directly with autistic and other individuals with special needs and their families on how to interact with first responders, as well as provides them with resources and education to help them thrive.

“Helping others is what I was raised to do. My team of volunteers and I have provided free training on autism and other special needs to more than 230 first responders. Don’t be afraid to go out and make a difference.”



Ayesha Abdullah, MEd
Therapeutic School House LLC

Ayesha Abdullah is the Owner of the Therapeutic School House, a home-like daycare that provides specialized care and education to young children on the spectrum, in a safe and stable environment. She has been in the field of education for more than 20 years as an Intervention Specialist. Ayesha is also the mother to a 16-year-old son on the spectrum. Due to his needs, she discovered that there were not many individuals who were adequately trained to care for her son while she worked. 

In 2010, Ayesha started to conduct research to put a plan into action to open a very unique daycare of her own. She used her entire life savings to purchase a 2800 sq. ft. home and completely converted it into a school. Her goal is to maximize each child's level of development while preparing them socially and academically through a unique learning approach, which allows each child to learn by using attractive and adapted teaching materials.

“I have had the opportunity to be a consultant to many individuals who are interested in embarking on the same journey as myself. My advice is to put every thought or idea down on paper. What keeps me motivated are my own children and the different families that I serve.”



Jenna Newman
Heroes Helping Those with Special Needs

 Jenna is the Founder and President of a newly-formed nonprofit in Mentor, Ohio called Heroes Helping Those with Special Needs. This nonprofit provides sensory bags to both fire and police departments locally and nationwide. They team up with the Autism Awareness Training and Acceptance Program, an autism organization in Hubbard, Ohio, to provide free autism and first responder training. In addition, the organization provides a special needs safety program called STICKS at local fire and police departments and holds family-friendly special needs events throughout the year. 

Jenna is always looking for ways to make the world a better place for her son as well as for others by spreading autism awareness and fostering autism acceptance. Jenna knows  firsthand that small changes can have a huge impact!

“Don’t sit around and wait for someone else to start an idea that you have, just go for it! Seeing the smiles on the kids' faces and the first responders is one of the most rewarding things--both groups are learning so much from each other!”



Caitlin Keener, MSW, LSW
Summit Academy Management

 Caitlin Keener is a Master’s level Licensed Social Worker in the state of Ohio who has spent the majority of her career working to eliminate barriers to education for students with special needs. She has extensive experience conducting groups to teach social, coping, and adaptive behavior skills to students receiving special education services. Caitlin also developed a “Life Skills Lab” in Summit Academy Toledo to assist students in learning independent living skills, and a “Community Closet” which serves families by providing food, hygiene and paper products, clothing, and other resources.

 Currently, Caitlin serves as a Regional Special Education Director for Summit Academy Management, where she provides oversight to the special education programs in nine schools throughout Ohio. Caitlin is a great role model for students, who look up to her and know that she is always in their corner, even when it feels like no one else is!

 “I truly love helping others and helping to eliminate barriers for those who may not be able to eliminate those barriers themselves. I am motivated on a daily basis when I see my students succeed, when they realize they did something they didn’t think they could, when that ‘light bulb’ goes off.”



Michael P. Storz, MBA
Chapel Haven Schleifer Center

Michael P. Storz is President of Chapel Haven Inc., overseeing a flourishing campus in New Haven, Connecticut where 250 adults with social and developmental disabilities are learning to live independent and self-determined lives. Michael joined Chapel Haven in 2000. Under his leadership, Chapel Haven recently completed a $45 million transformation of its Westville campus and added a senior living facility, allowing senior members of the community to continue living among friends and with independence.

Prior to Chapel Haven, Michael worked with children and adults with autism in both the classroom and home environments. He has advised disability programs in England, Kuwait, Poland, and across the United States. He is President of the National Association for Residential Providers of Adults with Autism, is co-chair of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, and chairs the Bethany Leapley Autism Spectrum Disorder Charity Fund. Mike relishes volunteering his time as a sensitive Santa for children with disabilities.

“In my work, I've tried to set a tone of inclusiveness and I've been fortunate to be surrounded by a team who feels as passionately as I do about championing adult independence.”



Cory Svette
The Cleveland Opera

Cory Svette is the Director for Sharon’s Signers in Elyria, Ohio. This is a sign language choir that performs sign language to music in the style of musical theater for opera and Disney story- related works. Cory is also the Executive Director and Theater Director for Sharon’s Westlake Signers and Sharon’s Youth Signers. Cory has been known to use his personal time, money, and resources to purchase and create amazing costumes and sets.

Cory is an exceptional role model and mentor. Through these programs, Cory is able to create and maintain bonds of friendship for numerous individuals with special needs. Cory has transformed these sign choirs into a real “family” that means so much to everyone who is involved. Cory is also a talented professional vocalist for the Cleveland Theater, Cleveland Opera, and the Westlake Church of the Redeemer. 

“Helping others through music and theater has always been a give-and-take reward for myself. Watching others grow, while learning how better to communicate with all types of special needs individuals, has shaped my life and my jobs.”



Dr. Robert Needlman, MD
MetroHealth Medical Center

 Dr. Robert Needlman has been a Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrician for more than 30 years. Early in his career he discovered the power of parents reading aloud to children--in part, by reading to his own child--and the unique opportunity that pediatricians have to pass on this gift to patients. The result is a national organization, Reach Out and Read (ROR), which works with doctors and families in all 50 states.

 For the last 20 years, Dr. Needlman has led ROR Greater Cleveland, supporting 35 clinics in the region. Dr. Needlman also coordinates the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at MetroHealth Medical Center, which provides care to children with a range of developmental problems, and works closely with the MetroHealth Autism Assessment Clinic. He's also the co-author of the last four editions of “Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care,” the classic parenting manual.

 “There isn't anything in life more satisfying than helping another person. It's wonderful to have a job that lets me experience this on a daily basis. My patients keep me going.”



Marla Root
Ohio Autism Insurance Coalition and Root Consulting

Marla Root is the Founder and Director of the Ohio Autism Insurance Coalition, through which she supports families and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) providers navigating insurance-funded treatments. Marla is one of the ONLY providers in Ohio to specifically advocate for insurance to pay for ABA. The Coalition’s website provides over 3,000 visitors with educational materials each year.

Marla’s 25-year-old son Eli, significantly impacted by autism and an intellectual disability, led her to advocate for services and eventually become an administrator for a CARF-accredited mental health center. Marla was honored to receive the 2016 Autism Speaks’ Implementation Award for developing the Coalition. In 2010, the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities awarded her 2010 Advocate of the Year. She has also served as the Public Policy Chair for the Autism Society of Ohio.

“Over the years I have developed a passion for helping families find answers to their questions, while also mapping a path forward so they can advocate for the services they need.”

Past Award Recipients

Community Innovation Award - Ilene Lainer, NEXT for AUTISM, New York, NY
Family Tribute Award -- Susan Sachs, Project Hope Foundation, Greenville, SC
Family Tribute Award -- Lisa Lane, Project Hope Foundation, Greenville, SC
Professional Excellence Award -- Wendy Duke, Center for Applied Drama and Autism, Akron, OH
Visionary Employer Award -- Rebecca Beam, Auticon, Calabasas, CA

Parent Tribute Award -- Amy and Jeff Belles, Co-Directors of KultureCity Ohio 
Everyday Hero Award -- Jennifer Casamento, Paraprofessional with Field Local Schools
Professional Excellence -- Brad McGarry, Director of the Autism Initiative, Mercyhurst University
Professional Excellence -- Chris Filler, Program Director, Lifespan Transitions Center with Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI)
Personal Achievement Award -- Jordyn Zimmerman

Trailblazer -- Grace Blatt
Trailblazer -- Tyler Aldrich
Research & Medicine -- Stephen Ruedrich MD, CWRU School of Medicine, University Hospitals
Research & Medicine -- Thomas Frazier, Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks
Parent Tribute -- Catherine Krammer, PhD, Founder of Lake/Geauga Support Group for Parents
Parent Tribute -- Saundra Jordan, Parent Mentor at CMSD
Outstanding Educator -- Tabatha Devine, Work Study Coordinator, Westlake High School
Community Innovator -- Nicole Gerami, MA CCC-SLP, Friendship in Teams (F.I.T.) Program
Personal Achievement -- Lucas Estafanous

Teen Trailblazer -- Alexandra Wiskes
Professional Excellence -- Mary Beth Koss Achievement Centers for Children
Parent Tribute -- Keith Bambic
Parent Tribute -- Shari Goldberg, Past President and Founder, Autism Speaks NE Ohio Chapter
Community Innovator -- Kelly Florian, Playhouse Square
Community Innovator -- Daniel Hahn, Playhouse Square, Great Lakes Theater
Personal Achievement -- Brittany Lieberman JFSA Transitions
Personal Achievement -- Sari Gonick JFSA Transitions
Personal Achievement -- Adam Freireich, JFSA Transitions
Personal Achievement -- Evan Burg, JFSA Transitions

Teen Trailblazer -- Michael Whary
Parent Tribute -- Sandee Winkelman
Outstanding Educator -- Terry Kobetitsch, Intervention Specialist, Revere Local School District
Community Innovator -- Doug Blecher, Autism Personal Coach
Professional Excellence -- Lisa Audet PhD, CCC-SLP, Kent State University
Personal Achievement -- Timothy Ray Smith, Self-Advocate

Teen Trailblazer -- Justin Bachman
Visionary Employer Award -- Cleveland Clinic
Visionary Employer Award -- City of Independence
Visionary Employer Award -- Natural Essentials
Professional Excellence -- Sister Agnesmarie LoPorto
Parent Tribute -- Sarah Rintamaki, Connecting for Kids
Outstanding Educator -- Alison Edie-Krohe
Community Innovator -- Dianne DePasquale-Hagerty, Medina Creative Housing

Teen Trailblazer -- Molly Dann
Professional Excellence (in memorium) -- Debbie Avner
Professional Excellence -- Lori Wotowiec, ASGC
Professional Excellence -- Jim Wotowiec, ASGC
Parent Recognition -- Joy Spencer, Aspres Group
Volunteer Appreciation -- Josh Eyre

Teen Trailblazer -- Aaron Danielpour
Volunteer Appreciation -- Andrew Wasserman
Professional Excellence -- Aletta Sinoff
Professional Excellence -- Karin Hess-Hopkins, Monarch School

2004 – 2011

2004 Catherine Maurice
2005   Barbara  Yavorcik, Autism Society Ohio
2006   Toby Bresky, JFSA
2007   Teresa Karsnak, Strongsville City School District
2007   Heidi Solomon, JFSA
2008   Kriselle Fox, Cleveland Municipal School District
2008   Stacie Mamula, Revere School
2008   Sherri Appleton, Asperger Team
2008   Sarah Taub, YACHAD
2009   Debra Mandell, Monarch School
2010   Parent Tribute Jeanna  Syndenstricker
2010   Parent Tribute Ann Regan, UpSide of Downs
2010   Professional Excellence William D. Thomas, Solon Blue Ribbon
2010   Professional Excellence  Kimberly C. English

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