Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism
The Autism Society’s Board of Directors maintains a Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors (PSA). This volunteer panel provides expertise and guidance to the Autism Society in all aspects of its work. The panel includes some of the most recognized and influential names in the autism community.
- Lars Perner, Ph.D., Chairperson
- Darrius Frazier
- Dena Gassner
- David A. George
- Sharisa Joy Kochmeister
- Kerry Magro
- Sondra Williams
- Zosia Zaks
Lars Perner is an assistant professor of clinical marketing at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California. He holds a Ph.D. in marketing from USC and an M.B.A. and B.A. in political science and psychology from the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He currently teaches marketing fundamentals and travels with M.B.A. students on firm visits in Japan. He maintains web sites on both marketing and the autism spectrum and creates podcasts on both topics. In retrospect, Dr. Perner finds it ironic that he chose a profession that is essentially focused on theory of mind.
Dr. Perner’s main research interests center on consumer behavior, non-profit fundraising and “win-win” deals. He became interested in the autism spectrum after being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1996 and has since written extensively on this topic. Dr. Perner is currently working on a discussion of academics on the autism spectrum and is updating his essay entitled “If I’d Known Then What I Know Now: Reflections on Life on the Autism Spectrum.”
Darrius Frazier is a post-baccalaureate at Eastern Illinois University, studying Physical education. He has earned several degrees: Business Administration and African-American Studies, both in 2005 and Kinesiology and Sports Studies in 2011. Darrius has varied experience in athletic-related event management and hopes to pursue a career as a sports broadcaster.
Dena Gassner is the 2009 winner of the Jo Andrews Award from Nashville’s Mayor’s Committee on Disability for outstanding disability advocacy by a person living with disabilities. She has been featured in the No-Myths public service announcement and an online video for the Dan Marino Foundation. Ms. Gassner is a presenter for HEALTH Education Network, LLC, in her second national tour speaking about vulnerabilities in Asperger’s Syndrome. Her personal mantra empowers persons to leave shame and inadequacy behind for an empowered life embracing autistic authenticity. Ms. Gassner owns a private practice, the Center for Understanding, in Nashville which is the only adult Asperger program in the region. The Center for Understanding brings in nationally recognized speakers, provides teen and adult support programs, caregiver recreational events and intensive one-to-one support.
In addition to national training for the Autism Society, Penn State, ASA SC, the National Association of Developmental Disability Directors and Jewish Vocational Services, Ms. Gassner is a frequent presenter at statewide events such as the Mega Conference, Tennessee Voices, Positive Behavioral Supports, and the Tennessee Department of Education Special Education Conference. She is an advisory board member for the Autism Society and an executive board member for the Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership (GRASP).
David A. George is a graduated from Bethany College in 1992. David is the author of a self-published book, entitled “Be Unique Be You and Live!” and has presented at several autism conferences. David is a hardcore lover of music who embraces many different genres. David has the astute mind of a sensitive artist and is a critical thinker and communicator of philosophy and psychology. David is currently employed at a local bank.
Sharisa Joy Kochmeister is a writer/advocate/researcher/educator regarding the rights of children and adults with disabilities. She holds an honors degree in sociology and psychology from the University of Denver. Ms. Kochmeister publishes and manages a new electronic free magazine called The Voices and Choices of Autism. She was appointed by two consecutive governors to the Colorado Developmental Disabilities Council and is now an elected executive committee member of that board. Ms. Kochmeister conducts on-site seminars, needs assessments and in-service training at many organizations and schools. She is as an expert consultant/advocate in the areas of disabilities, communication, assistance, adaptive technology and inclusive education, and has delivered keynote addresses in a variety of venues. She is a published poet, author and songwriter, and her life story has been featured in journals, print media and broadcast media. She is currently working on her autobiography, as well as a fairytale about autism and several books of poetry.
Kerry Magro started his own non-profit organization KFM Making a Difference focused on housing, advocacy and scholarship opportunities for individuals with autism. Kerry holds a Masters’ Degree from Seton Hall University in Strategic Communication, which he received in May 2013. In 2007 as a high school senior Kerry won the Autism Society’s CVS All Kids Can Scholarship. For Kerry was named the 2011 Autism Society’s Outstanding Individual with Autism award and was recognized by The Autism Research Foundation with the 2012 Margaret L Bauman Award for Advocacy in the autism community. In addition to consulting he has started a full time position at Autism Speaks as a Social Marketing Coordinator. From 2010-2012 Kerry consulted on Todd Graff’s motion picture Joyful Noise assisting in the portrayal of one of the characters, Walter who plays the role of a teenager on the spectrum. In addition Kerry has He is also coming out with his first novel called “Defining Autism from the Heart”.
Sondra Williams is a person diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, which she refers to as “high functioning autism.” She is married and has four children, all of whom are diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Ms. Williams is the grandmother of Delaney, who is developing typically so far. She is an author, speaker and presenter, and says when in these roles “she feels successful for a brief moment in her life.” Ms. Williams enjoys many interests, primarily writing poetry, trees and cultures.
Ms. Williams is preparing several new presentations that will be ready for 2010: “I am Communicating, Can’t You Hear Me?” and “When Mental Health Goes Wrong.” This second presentation will highlight Ms. Williams’ review and re-evaluation of her past mental health records and will explore how poor care and wrong diagnosis can cause more harm than benefit. Ms. Williams is also currently working on a book titled The Painful Laughter In-Between.
Zosia Zaks is the author of Life and Love: Positive Strategies for Autistic Adults and writes and speaks nationally on issues of importance to the autism community. Zosia earned a M.Ed. in Rehabilitation Counseling from Hunter College and has a degree in Technical Journalism from Polytechnic University. Zosia works as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and advocates on the state and federal levels for employment policies and programs that meet the unique needs of adults across the spectrum. Because life was a struggle until Zosia was properly diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age 31, and because it took years to obtain a proper diagnosis and appropriate services for two daughters on the spectrum, Zosia also advocates for earlier detection for young children who do not fit the typical profile of autism, focusing in particular on outreach to minority communities that lack access to information and resources.