Introduction to Autism

Getting any new diagnosis comes with the need to understand it. Learn the basics about autism, and get some take-home tips, from people who understand and have worked in this field for 20+ years.

We will explain the details about autism and how brain differences help shape personality, likes, dislikes, fears, eating, sleeping, the senses, and communication. Please come and ask your questions, meet others with similar concerns and learn what to do at home and in the community!

This is a free workshop, but registration is required.

Behavioral Health Commission Special Report 2022

We are powered by an amazing board of trustees who actively engage in the work we need to in order to be a lifeline for families and adults, which is our mission. One of our unsung heroes is the Hon. William F. Ward (Bill) who serves on the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD). As PCCD’s representative, Bill was key in creating funding opportunities in this Behavioral Health Commission Special Report. Follow the link below to read the full report.


Act 54 Areas of Focus (page 3)

  • Delivery of services using telemedicine
  • Behavioral health rates, network adequacy, and mental health payment parity
  • Workforce development and retention
  • Expansion of certified peer support specialist services and peer-run services
  • Development and provision of crisis services
  • Integration of behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment
  • Cultural competencies when providing behavioral health care
  • Impact of social determinants of health on behavioral health
  • Intersection of behavioral health and the criminal justice system
  • Establishment of an integrated care model that can deliver timely psychiatric care in a primary care setting

On page 7, the Commission recommends that we “develop and expand upon pre-arrest diversion programs that connect people with resources in a time of crisis, including individuals with intellectual disabilities and with autism spectrum disorder.”

Bill Ward took a few moments to answer some clarifying questions about the recommendations:

Bill Ward

Bill Ward, Past Chair, Autism Connection of PA Board of Trustees

Autism Connection: What does “pre-arrest” actually mean?

Bill Ward: There are two different types of arrests. There is a custodial arrest, which is when a person is detained, is not free to leave the scene, placed in handcuffs, and removed to the local police department. (There are also non-custodial arrests, such as when a person is given a citation or ticket for a summary offense but is allowed to leave the scene without being processed at the local police department.)  The concept of “pre-arrest” is focused upon those encounters or incidents where the police have the discretion to not detain and charge a person, but instead would “divert” them from being criminally charged.  In my mind, “pre-arrest” is too narrow a restriction.  More often, the police will detain and charge a person.  Even so, much good work can be done to divert the offender after the arrest but prior to the Preliminary Hearing, usually set for 10 days later.

Autism Connection: Can you give us a brief description of the co-responder model? Is there a good resource for this model?

Bill Ward: One definition is: “A model for crisis response that pairs trained police officers with mental health professionals to respond to incidents involving individuals experiencing behavioral health crises.”  Here’s a link to an article discussing the co-responder model:

Responding to Individuals in Behavioral Health Crisis Via Co-Responder Models

The BHC Report recommends that $5 million be dedicated to counties to develop or expand co-responder models, and to train first responders in crisis intervention.

Autism Connection: Anything you’d like to add?

Bill Ward:  Yes. While $23.5 million is recommended to improve the criminal justice and public safety systems, $5 million (of the $23.5 million) will be to develop and expand upon pre-arrest diversion programs that connect people with resources in a time of crisis. The Behavioral Health Commission was receptive to put in that such funding expressly include “individuals with Intellectual Disabilities and with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Autism Connection of Pennsylvania recognizes the tireless dedication our Board of Trustees demonstrates. When you see something that speaks to your need, know that our awesome board has had their fingerprints on that – for our literal minded readers, this means they have inspired, worked on, or supported that activity in a meaningful way.


Empowered Voices Leadership Meeting Series

The Empowered Voices Leadership Group is comprised of self advocates
who are interested in meeting new people, sharing their
stories, and developing self-advocacy and leadership skills. Members of
the group plan the meeting agendas, speakers, and outreach activities.
The group meets on the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month via
Google Meets from 6pm to 8pm ET. Topics include Person-Centered
Planning, Self-Advocacy Skills, and Public Speaking.

This week’s topic is Healthy Eating.

Google Meets Joining Information:
Video call link:
Or dial: (US) +1 304-908-9025 PIN: 199 210 961 #
For more information contact Melissa Skiffen at
or visit

Waiting Room Conversations

Dionna Rojas shares the journey that both she and her husband went on to find the answers to support their son when he was a toddler.
Dionna shares how she had to humble herself and be open to creative ways to advocate for her son to finally achieve the goal of getting his diagnosis to ensure he had access to the correct supports.
Take Away
  • Identify the steps in early diagnosis
  • Learn how to become self-aware and okay with not being okay (grief)
  • Begin to think about your families next steps in building a community of support
  • Learn how to advocate for you and your child in medical, behavioral health, and special education spaces
Speaker Bio

Dionna Rojas is a Speaker, Author, Award-Winning Business Owner and Certified Life Coach specializing in Boundary Coaching. She has 28 years in the human services space mitigating family crisis and successful co-parenting. Her faith-driven work led her to train hundreds of parents in the family reunification process and most recently, prompted her to launch her Pittsburgh Faith-based coaching company, Treasure You Coaching, LLC.   

Dionna specializes in helping working mothers balance their careers and family life while achieving clarity and peace of mind through boundary work. 

Dionna believes a child’s world view, including injustices and triumphs, starts within the family of origin– and that mothers have the great opportunity and are often responsible for shaping it. From parenting a child with special needs to advocating for individuals with disabilities Dionna has a life-long calling of building up communities to help them be the best version of themselves

Register here for this free event.

Late Diagnosis of Autism

Sharon Janosik brings her lived experience as an Autistic adult, parent of two children with disabilities, and a volunteer advocate for Special Education and disability issues to her role as the Western Coordinator for PEAL’s Families 2 the Max and Path to Graduation programs.

She is a graduate of Duquesne University and Temple University Institute on Disability’s C2P2 program. Sharon also serves as a School Director for her local school district and on Pennsylvania’s Special Education Advisory Panel.

Register here for this free event.