Join us on January 13: Does Your Education Team Presume Competence? 

xMindsWire January 2021

Does Your Education Team Presume Competence in Your Autistic Student? 


For our first speaker event of the new year we will bring together two panels to discuss perspectives on what it means for an education team to "presume competence" in an autistic student. The phrase "presuming competence" is a weighty one in the autism community, especially for those who have serious communication challenges.

For an autistic individual who has not yet found a reliable form of communication, it can be nearly impossible to demonstrate to the satisfaction of educators that he or she understands what is being taught. If the education team assumes a student who can't communicate is understanding nothing, they risk keeping a student in an inappropriately low-level classroom, making school life a misery and preventing them from accessing age-appropriate material.  

Join us to learn from three autistic self-advocates impacted by the assumption that the inability to show what they understood was the same as an inability to think or understand. 

At 7pm our panel of three autistic self-advocates will discuss their lived experiences. At 8pm our panel of allies to autistic self-advocates will offer their perspectives on presuming competence. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions after each panel presentation. Register here

Identity–First Language: What Does it Mean?  


There are many in the disability rights community who believe that person-first language is the most respectful way to refer to individuals who have disabilities. Person-first language, in their view, recognizes individuals as human beings first, and their autism is part, but not all of them. Examples of person-first language are: "child with autism" or "individual on the autism spectrum." 

Many parents of children who have an autism diagnosis also prefer person-first language for their children. However, within the community of autistic self-advocates, there are many (probably a majority) who prefer to put their autism identity first. They explain that their autism is integral to who they are – not something separate from them; it's the way they perceive, understand and experience the world. Looked at this way, it is similar to how a person might identify herself as a woman rather than a person with femaleness. Examples of identity-first language are: "autistic self-advocate" or "ASD child."

xMinds respects every individual’s right to choose the identifier they prefer, and will use the preferred identifier for any specific individual. When we refer to individuals in general, we have debated whether to defer to what we perceive to be parents’ preference for person-first language and autistic self-advocates’ preference for identity-first language. Out of deference to the diversity of views on this issue, and until there is a clear consensus within the autism community, xMinds will continue to intentionally use both person-first and identity-first language interchangeably. Visit our website for links to essays and posts from autistic individuals and others expressing a range of perspectives on identity-first language. 

Meet the Leadership of xMinds


It's been awhile since we've all been together in one place, so we thought we'd reintroduce ourselves! If you would like to join us as a volunteer, contact us and join one of our committees. We would love to have you -- and we all started as xMinds volunteers!  

Laura Gordon, President
Laura grew up in Seattle, and has enjoyed living in different places around the country, including Chicago and Maine. Laura quickly fell into the role of advocate when her son started special education in MCPS ten years ago. In addition to serving on the xMinds Board since 2015, she has served as President of the Sandburg Parent Association and has worked as a substitute teacher and paraeducator in MCPS. Her son currently attends Marcia D. Smith School.  

Melissa Egan, Vice President and Chair, Events Committee 
Melissa is the mother of two children, one of which attends a Learning for Independence program in MCPS. She works part time as the Communications Coordinator for St. Francis of Assisi Church in Derwood, MD. She is grateful to hone her advocacy skills through xMinds and help further its mission as Chair of the Events Committee.  

Jean Winegardner, Treasurer
Jean is a parent and autistic self-advocate with three children who have been taught in many different MCPS programs and settings. She has a Master's degree in journalism and works as the Office Manager for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. 

Nora Dudwick, Secretary
Nora recently retired from her work as an anthropologist in international development, first at the World Bank, and more recently, as a member of the gender and social inclusion team at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. She has spent many years advocating for her son (who has ADHD) and her daughter (in the ARS program). 

Carolina Harp, Co-Chair, BIPOC Outreach Committee
Carolina works full time at a nonprofit (can we say The Arc?) organization dedicated to supporting individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. She feels strongly that parent involvement and collaboration between home and school is key to the success of every student. She has two students in MCPS, one of which is in the ARS program. 

Maria Ott, Chair, Non-Speaking Autistic Students Committee
Maria is an attorney with a JD from the Catholic University of America. She also earned her MSEd from the University of Pennsylvania specializing in Intercultural Communications. Maria is the mother of a nonspeaking autistic daughter and an advocate for the civil rights of people with speech-related communication disabilities and conditions. She provides legal representation pro bono to students with disabilities in DC and Maryland. Maria recently accepted a fellowship at Disability Rights Maryland, and will be leaving the Board of xMinds, but will be staying on as Chair of the Non-Speaking Autistic Students Committee. 

Bonita Williams, Co-Chair, BIPOC Outreach Committee
A graduate of the University of Michigan, George Washington University, and University of Maryland (UUMC), with masters degrees in Political Management, Business Data Analytics, and Business Administration, Bonita has worked on Capitol Hill and in government affairs. Most recently she served as PTA President for her son's school and continues to serve on the MCCPTA's Special Education Advisory Committee. Bonita is an education reform fellow with the nonprofit Teachers Democracy Project. 

Kim Pinckney-Lewis, Chair of the Education Support Committee
Kim recently received her doctorate in Instructional Design and Technology from Old Dominion University. With over 20 years of experience in training and education fields, she has served as an Instructional Designer Performance Improvement Consultant. She is the proud mother of a child on the autism spectrum and brings experience in inclusive learning advocacy and strategic needs assessments to the xMinds Board. 

Sue Keisler, Executive Director 
Sue earned a JD and MBA from the University of Chicago and practiced law at Sidley and Austin until giving it up to be home with her three children, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Sue has spent years tutoring children with learning disabilities, served on the Board of the Edmund Burke School, and taken a leadership role in development efforts at several independent schools in DC and Montgomery County. Executive Director since July 2019, Sue brings to xMinds her experience with non-profit governance, fund-raising, inclusive education, and her passion for promoting understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity.

Upcoming xMinds Virtual Events

Wednesday, January 13, 7pm

Does Your Education Team Presume Competence in Your Autistic Student?

See details here. 

Wednesday, February 24, 7pm

Understanding Behavior: What are Autistic Children Communicating?

See details here

Autistic panelists for our January 13 webinar include Terra Vance, Lisa Vallado and Gordy Baylinson. 

Plan Ahead

Our xMinds calendar shows events on their start date, but some programs require you to apply before the start date. Here is an offering that requires advance planning: 

Starobin Counseling and Jamell White are accepting applications for their 2021 MoCo PEERS® program for young adults, which starts March 1, 2021.

Community Events 

You can find many programs that are free or are offered by our professional members on the xMinds calendar.


The video recording of Autism Plus Anxiety: Anything but Neurotypical, as well as extra resources on the topic are available on our website.

Dr. Johnathon Dalton and Jeremy Pedneau presented at our December webinar.

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