Opening Panel: Autistic Voices Driving Autism Research

To start the conference, we are offering "Autistic Voices Driving Autism Research," at 8:30 a.m. in the BEST Conference Room. This panel of Autistic professionals will address the differences in research priorities that exist between neurotypical researchers and Autistic researchers, how funding distribution exacerbates these differences, and what discoveries autistic-led research has introduced. In addition, the panel will also discuss why it is imperative to include Autistic researchers - especially in matters of design, recruitment, methods and subject matter—and how current research professionals should properly engage with them.

The panel will be moderated by Spencer Hunley of the Kansas City League of Autistics. Our panelists are community members Jade Littleton, Elizabeth Boresow, Ann Bales, and Brie Clemens; and KUCDD staff member Ben Edwards:

Spencer Hunley (he/him) is an autistic professional based in Kansas City, Missouri. As a current Executive Committee member for the Kansas City League of Autistics, he serves on the Missouri Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders, and is finishing his undergrad in Psychology at UMKC. In addition, Spencer is a Kansas University Medical Center LEND Trainee, serves on the SDLMI Consumer Advisory Board for the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project through the KU Life Span Institute, and on the Kansas City Health Equity Collaborative to improve local health outcomes for persons with disabilities in the community. His current advocacy efforts, among other projects, focus on improving healthcare outcomes for autistics and other neurodivergent individuals through advocacy and policy change

Jade Littleton (they/she) is a nonbinary trans woman who is employed as an analyst for a marketing company specializing in fundraising campaigns for nonprofits. They hold a Masters of Science in Data Science with an emphasis in Data Science for Social Sciences from Utica College. In addition to her professional background and personal stake in the autistic community, she is also a parent of two.

Elizabeth Boresow (she/her) is 33 years old. She has been working professionally in the world of developmental disabilities for over a decade. Her experience being autistic greatly informs her work as both a Board-Certified Music Therapist and Direct Support Professional.

Ann Bales (she/her), a 27-year-old Office Manager and Marketing Director at a Regenerative health clinic, has a talent for developing effective marketing strategies using her strong analytical skills. Her autism diagnosis provides a unique perspective that allows her to consistently produce innovative solutions to problems. Additionally, Ann has pursued a diverse range of interests, including becoming a published author, stand-up comedian, playing 3 years of professional football, and now co-ed ice hockey.

Brie Clemens (they/them) is a CMN volunteer, an artist, a gamer, and the owner of too many books to live comfortably in their small apartment. They work at an IDD (intellectual and developmental disabilities) day program, working directly with both the clients in need of supports and the teams responsible for providing those supports. As a self-described autistic working with autistics, they see “behind the scenes” in more ways than one.

Ben Edwards (he/him/his) is a Kansas City native who lives in Lawrence, Kansas and serves on the Executive Committee of the Kansas City League of Autistics. He graduated from the University of Central Missouri with a Bachelor’s in Cultural Studies and the University of Missouri-Kansas City with a graduate certificate in Disability Studies, and is also a former trainee from the Kansas Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) program. Having formerly worked for UMKC’s Propel Program, Ben is currently a research aide at the Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities. His current advocacy efforts, among other projects, focus on improving healthcare outcomes for autistics and other neurodivergent individuals through advocacy and policy change.