Join us for our Autistic Self-Advocates Panel, Tuesday, May 23

xMindsWire May 2023

Autistic Self-Advocates Panel: Starting a Career


Join xMinds and the Howard County Autism Society (HCAS) on Tuesday, May 23, at 7:00 PM over Zoom, for our annual self-advocates panel. This year, our panelists will discuss getting started in a career.

Our three panelists are all autistic adults who have recently embarked on their careers. Panelists will discuss how they chose their career path, what challenges they have encountered, and what insights they’ve gleaned from their employment experiences. We’re excited to hear from the real experts on this topic! We’ll leave plenty of time for questions. Our panelists are:

  • Abraham Sanchez, who works at Pete Pappas and Sons, a produce grower and distributor in Jessup, MD;
  • Kiana Fok, who works for Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, P.A., a Baltimore law firm specializing in labor and employee benefits; and
  • Abigail Alexis, an artist who works part time at a grocery store.

Zosia Zaks, M.Ed., C.R.C. (Certified Rehabilitation Counselor) will moderate the panel. An autistic self-advocate, Zosia has more than 20 years of experience supporting hundreds of teenagers and adults on the autism spectrum to live and work in their communities. 

We’re excited to co-host this event with HCAS, which has recently expanded its Autism Hiring Program into Montgomery County. Two of our three panelists participated in the HCAS Autism Hiring Program.

Zosia Zaks

There’s no cost to attend the presentation, and we’ll offer simultaneous Spanish interpretation. Register here to receive the Zoom link.

Learn About Restorative Justice in MCPS


Join us on Tuesday, May 16, at 7:00 PM for an online presentation about MCPS’s restorative justice program and how it impacts special education students. Hosted by the xMinds Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Outreach Committee, the presentation will focus on this new approach to building community, self-care, and conflict resolution.

As of 2019, Maryland law requires school systems to incorporate “restorative approaches” to discipline. Restorative approaches may include mediation, community circles, social emotional learning, and more.

Floyd Branch III

MCPS has embraced a restorative justice approach, which it views as a way for students to:

  • Actively engage and problem solve physical, psychological, social, and disciplinary issues that affect themselves and the community.
  • Take responsibility for their actions.
  • Work with those affected to restore and/or repair the members and community who were harmed as a result of those actions.

Floyd Branch III, an MCPS restorative justice instruction specialist, will update us on this approach, which has received mixed reviews from students and families. He’ll also discuss disciplinary policies and their impact on students in special education, including the disproportionate impact on students of color. And he will offer guidance on how parents and caregivers can best advocate for their kids within the restorative justice paradigm. There will be time for your questions. 

The free presentation will be offered over Zoom with simultaneous Spanish interpretation. Register here to receive the Zoom link.

Register Here

Looking for Summer Books for Your Child?


Are you hoping to inspire your child to read more this summer? Join xMinds on Thursday, June 8, at 7:00 PM, for a panel discussion with five autistic authors of literature for children and young adults. You’ll meet authors Sally J. Pla, Sarah Kapit, Mike Jung, Ivelisse Housman, and Lyn Miller-Lachman, who will discuss their writing processes, their insights as autistic authors, and how they’ve incorporated autistic and neurodiverse characters into their books. Click here for a look at some of the books they’ve penned.

The panel will be moderated by Meera Trehan, author of “The View from the Very Best House in Town,” a middle-grade novel that focuses on two autistic best friends. This free presentation will be over Zoom with simultaneous Spanish interpretation. Register here to receive the Zoom link.

Register Here

Leadership Changes at xMinds


As the school year starts to wrap up, we’re preparing for our own transition here at xMinds. With mixed emotions, we announce that Executive Director Sue Keisler will retire June 1 after serving in the role for four years. We thank Sue for her unwavering devotion to xMinds, her passion for helping others, her commitment to inclusivity, and her ingenuity that helped xMinds serve more families and expand its offerings while removing membership fees.

xMinds has grown tremendously over the past four years under Sue’s leadership. Just a few highlights:

• We took down financial and language barriers that have traditionally made it difficult for some families to access our resources, instead offering all events, resources and services for free, and in both Spanish and English.

• We pivoted from in-person to virtual speaker events, which are also recorded and offered for on-demand viewing on the xMinds YouTube channel. Originally necessitated by the pandemic, this change has made our speaker events more accessible, helping us reach many more families.

• We centered the voices of autistic presenters, including nonspeaking autistic self-advocates, to provide insights from the real experts.

• We launched four virtual monthly discussion groups that focus on the specific concerns within segments of our community, providing a forum for parents to connect and support each other.

• We established in-person family meetups to build community and provide a judgment-free place for autistic children to play.

• We expanded to serve preprimary ages, providing families with the support they need in those formative preschool years.

• We recruited and trained a volunteer advocacy team that offers free IEP consults for MoCo parents.

• We expanded our impact in the classroom, increasing our funding for MoCo educator grants for trainings and classroom supplies from a few hundred dollars to nearly $18,000 last year.

We’ll miss having Sue’s steady hands at xMinds’ helm, but we’re excited to see where her journeys will take her next. She plans to spend more time with her family, travel, and pursue her musical interests. While Sue is stepping down from the executive director position, she’s not leaving xMinds. She’ll bring her wealth of knowledge about the autism community and special ed to her new role as xMinds' vice president. That brings us to our next announcement . . .

We’re very happy to announce that Melanie Carlos, xMinds’ current vice president, will be our new executive director. Melanie was part of the original xMinds board from 2010 to 2012, and has remained a valuable xMinds volunteer since then. She is an active advocate on behalf of her son, who is in the MCPS Aspergers Connections program. Since rejoining the board a little over a year ago, Melanie has led the Elementary and Preschool Committee’s discussion groups and in-person meetups, and headed xMinds’ recent advocacy efforts supporting the burden of proof legislation in Maryland.

We’re grateful for all we accomplished under Sue’s guidance, and look forward to continued growth under Melanie’s leadership. We’ll officially welcome Melanie to her new role as executive director in the June newsletter.

Sue Keisler

Melanie Carlos

Support xMinds’ Bike to the Beach Fundraiser


There’s still time to join Team xMinds as we gear up for this summer’s Bike to the Beach—either as a biker or a supporter. This important fundraiser provides more than half our annual budget — money that goes toward hosting speaker events, developing online resources, offering volunteer advocacy services, providing educator grants, and more!

It costs us money to provide all these events and resources, but we made a commitment two years ago to make our offerings accessible to everyone who needs them, and that means providing them for free. Now we rely on donors more than ever. If you have the financial means to contribute to xMinds, please make a contribution to this fundraiser at whatever level is comfortable for you. 

If you want to contribute financially, donate here. Every gift is appreciated and helps us to continue to provide the resources and community that you count on!

If you want to join the team as a biker or as a volunteer, we welcome you! Sign up here to join Team xMinds and ride with us on Friday, July 28. It’s a very friendly group, and we span the full range of biking abilities. You can choose a 25-, 50-, 70-, or 100-mile route. To help you prepare for the big event, xMinds offers optional training rides throughout the spring, which are a fun way to meet other parents. Teens are welcome, too. Join us next on Sunday, May 21, 9:00 AM, at the trailhead of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Shirlington, VA. Email team captain Patrick Quigley to tell him you'll be joining us.  Find out the details here for riders and non-riding volunteers.

Donate Here

See You at the Playground, Sunday, May 21 


Enjoy a spring afternoon with xMinds on Sunday, May 21, during our playground meetup for MoCo families with elementary and preschool autistic children. We’ll meet 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM at the playground behind Ivymount School, 11614 Seven Locks Rd., Rockville, MD.

Our playground meetups provide a great opportunity to connect with other families who have autistic children — all while the kids enjoy some fresh air! We will provide snacks, and we always have Spanish-speaking volunteers.

Everyone is welcome, including siblings, and there’s no cost to attend. Registration is not required, so feel free to just show up. If you would like to receive event reminders and email notification if we are rained out, register here. We’re hoping for a sunny day, but if it rains, we’ll reschedule to Sunday, May 28.

Starting in June, our playground meetups will move to the third Saturday of each month, 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM. Mark your calendar for our summer meetups, which will all be at the playground behind Ivymount:

• Saturday, June 17, 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

• Saturday, July 15, 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

• Saturday, August 19, 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

    Register to Receive Reminders and Updates

    Showing Our Appreciation to Educators


    Next week, May 8-12, marks Teacher Appreciation Week, a wonderful opportunity to let your child's education team know how much they mean to you. At xMinds, we truly appreciate the hardworking MoCo educators who work tirelessly to support autistic students year-round. Educators reach into their hearts every day to guide and inspire our children, and all too often, they also need to reach into their pockets to purchase needed classroom supplies. That’s why we've made it a priority to support our MoCo educators with funding for classroom supplies and trainings that support autistic students.

    This school year alone, xMinds awarded thousands of dollars through our Educator Grant Program to help educators of autistic students purchase needed school supplies, such as noise-canceling headphones, weighted vests, fidgets, beanbag chairs, social stories, and executive-function planners. These funds have also paid for educators to attend training sessions on how to better support autistic students. Please consider supporting our Educator Grant Program with a donation to xMinds.

    Educators: Apply online today for an educator grant! Limited funding remains for this school year. Additional funding for educator grants will become available in August for the 2023–24 year.

    xMinds Featured on Philanthropy Podcast

    We’re thrilled that The Truman Charities highlighted xMinds on a recent podcast. Jamie Truman of the Truman Charities Podcast interviewed Executive Director Sue Keisler and Treasurer Eric Skigen about the important work that xMinds is doing to help MoCo families with autistic students. The podcast focused on how xMinds is building a community of support for families, empowering them to advocate for their students’ educational needs, and providing needed resources at no cost. 

    Check Out the xMinds Summer Camp Guide


    Summer camps and programs are filling up quickly! Check out the xMinds Summer 2023 Camp Guide to find some summer fun for your child. Our guide features offerings that autistic children and teens have enjoyed in past years. There’s something for everyone! We’ve been updating the guide as we hear about offerings, so take a second look if you’re still searching for the perfect fit for your child.

    Now on YouTube: Special Ed Basics Series

    We wrapped up the xMinds 2022–23 Special Education Basics Series in April with our webinar on “How to Write SMART IEP Goals.” This informative series provides all the basics on how to navigate special education services in Montgomery County. If you missed any of the webinars, you can catch them on the xMinds YouTube channel. Our Special Education Basics playlist includes: 

    • Understanding IEPs vs. 504 Plans vs. Service Plans, and Accommodations vs. Modifications: What Supports are Right for Your Child? Presented by educational experts Marci Skigen and Rachel Sushner of Enhance ESF and Naomi Rubinstein
    • Lunch and Learn on Executive Functioning Challenges for ASD Students, presented by executive function experts Marci Skigen and Rachel Sushner of Enhance ESF
    • Primer on MCPS Placements for Autistic Students (separate webinars on preschool, elementary, and secondary school placements), presented by MCPS Staff

    Each video is also available with Spanish translation on our Seminarios en Español playlist.

    Thank you to our wonderful speakers  for sharing their expertise with our community. We couldn’t have done this without you!

    Stay Connected with xMinds

    With so much swirling around in our busy lives, it’s easy to lose track of important events or miss out on useful news and resources. xMinds offers several ways to keep you connected: 
    • Follow xMinds on FacebookTwitter, and now also on Instagram for reminders and updates about xMinds events and resources, as well as community news.
    • Subscribe to the xMinds YouTube Channel to catch up on our webinars. Turn on your notifications if you want to be alerted when new videos are posted.

    • Join the xMinds GoogleGroup, a listserve for the xMinds community. This is the place to post information and share resources of interest to members of the xMinds community.
    • Subscribe to the xMindsWire, our monthly newsletter, to find out about local events and resources for MoCo families with autistic students.
    • Join the xMinds Slack channel for MoCo parents of autistic preschool and elementary students to share ideas and resources with others parents. To join the Slack #small-steps-chat-group email Melanie Carlos at and request an invitation.

    Professional Member Spotlight

    As a benefit to both our families and professional members, xMinds publishes information about our professional members here in the xMindsWire as well as on our website. Inclusion does not constitute our endorsement. This month, xMinds would like to highlight the following new and renewing professional members:


    Programs offered throughout the DMV

    Contact:  Katie Mraz;;; 301-565-4567

    Services: Social skills; Recreational support; Performing arts support

    ArtStream offers performance opportunities to people with IDDs – including autism – of all ages. Classes, workshops, and performances improve communication and social skills, build confidence, and develop friendships. No acting experience is required to take a class or workshop. There is a role for everyone at ArtStream.

    Ascend Ed LLC

    Gaithersburg, MD

    Contact:  Anneliese Girson;; 301-814-4263

    Services: Educational consulting and advocacy; Academic tutoring; Evaluations of academic achievement

    Ascend Ed provides advocacy, consulting, behavior support plans, transition testing and plans, educational achievement evaluations, and tutoring to support families of children and teenagers with disabilities. Owner Anneliese Girson has firsthand knowledge of IEP implementation, goal writing, service delivery models, and behavior management. She specializes in supporting students and families of students with behavioral needs that impact their relationship with school and learning.

    Dance Inclusive

    6125 Montrose Rd, Rockville, MD 20852


    Services: Recreation support

    Dance Inclusive is a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing the joy of dance with the Neurodiverse Community in Montgomery County, Maryland. We offer dance classes for middle school students (ages 10-13) and young adults (ages 16+) with mild to moderate cognitive disabilities to learn dance technique, practice fun choreography, and move alongside their neurodiverse and neurotypical peers. Dance Inclusive also offers performance opportunities, as well as volunteer opportunities for neurotypical young people. Classes are enrollment-based with Fall, Winter/Spring, and Summer sessions, and instructed by the highly skilled faculty of Unity Dance & Movement. Build social skills, develop confidence, and make new friends - no experience is necessary to come dance with us!

    H2D Counseling, Sumaiya Olatunde

    Contact: Sumaiya Olatunde;; 301-575-4885

    Services: Educational advocacy; educational consulting; admissions services; serving students ages Pre-K through graduate school.

    H2D Counseling provides educational advocacy and K12, college, and graduate school admissions services for all students. We participate in IEP and 504 meetings, connect families and students with resources, and help identify needed supports in the areas of education, mental health, therapies, and other needs as they arise. Our approach is very individualized and student-centered with a focus on balancing short-term needs with long-term goals. Sumaiya will also provide a free session to get you started in the right direction.

    JMS Education Consulting

    Contact: Joanna Salzman;; 240-994-0330

    Services: Educational advocacy; educational consulting; educational assessments

    At JMS Education Consulting, we believe families and schools must work together to meet the needs of all children. Together, we will define what success means for your child and help them to achieve it. This includes the IEP and 504 processes. I also conduct educational assessments, do observations, recommend strategies, write and edit IEPs, and participate in all types of meetings. I want to work collaboratively with schools so we can meet the needs of your child, together. If you feel your child needs a different placement or services, I can also assist with this.

    Raising Orchid Kids

    Washington, DC

    Contact: Jen Dryer and Gabriele Nicolet;; 917-696-1155

    Services: Support and coaching for parents

    Raising Orchid Kids is a parent education and coaching practice dedicated to helping parents find practical parenting strategies that actually work with neuro-different kids. All services are virtual.

    Upcoming xMinds Events

    xMinds events, resources, & services are always FREE

    Wednesday, May 3, 7:00 – 7:45 PM 

    Hablemos Educación Especial

    Online discussion group for Spanish-speaking MoCo parents/guardians of an autistic child. Register here.

    Tuesday, May 16, 7:00 – 8:30 PM 

    Restorative Justice in MCPS

    Webinar on how restorative justice is implemented in MCPS, and how it impacts special ed students. Hosted by the xMinds BIPOC Outreach Committee. Register here.

    Sunday, May 21, 2:00 – 3:30 PM

    Elementary and Preschool Playground Meetup 

    Meet other elementary and preschool families. See the details here

    Sunday, May 21, 9:00 AM

    Training Ride for Bike to the Beach

    Come bike with us as we train for this summer's fundraiser. See the details here.

    Monday, May 22, 7:00 – 7:45 PM

    Small Steps Together 

    Online discussion group for MoCo parents/guardians of an autistic elementary or preschool child. Register here.

    Tuesday, May 23, 7:00 – 8:30 PM

    Autistic Self-Advocates Panel: A Discussion of Starting Careers 

    Three autistic self-advocates discuss how they are getting started in their chosen careers. Register here.

    Wednesday, May 24, 7:00 – 7:45 PM

    Let's Talk Transitions 

    Online discussion group for MoCo parents/guardians of an autistic child in middle or high school. Register here.

    Sunday, June 4, 9:00 AM 

    Training Ride for Bike to the Beach

    Come bike with us as we train for this summer's fundraiser. See the details here.

    Monday, June 5, 7:00 – 7:45 PM 

    People of the Global Majority

    Online discussion group for MoCo parents/guardians of a BIPOC autistic child. Register here.

    Wednesday, June 7, 7:00 – 7:45 PM 

    Hablemos Educación Especial

    Online discussion group for Spanish-speaking MoCo parents/guardians of an autistic child. Register here.

    Thursday, June 8, 7:00 – 8:30 PM 

    Autistic Authors Panel: Inspiration for Summer Reading

    Online panel discussion with autistic authors of literature for children and young adults. Register here.

    Community Calendar

    Our community calendar is FULL of great offerings not only from xMinds, but from professional service providers located in Montgomery County. Check out the programs and events posted on our Events Calendar.

    Plan Ahead!

    Note: Our Events Calendar shows events on their start date, but some programs require you to apply before the start date, so please look ahead!

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