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, MSW
- David A. George
- Kate Gladstone
- Kris Guin
- Sharisa Joy Kochmeister
- Anita Lesko
- Kerry Magro
- John Miller
- Jennifer O’Toole
- Kate Palmer
- Sondra Williams
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 MBA 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 MBA students on firm visits in Japan. He maintains websites and creates podcasts on both marketing and the autism spectrum. 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, nonprofit fundraising and “win-win” deals. He became interested in the autism spectrum after being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in 1996, and he has since written extensively on this topic, including 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 studying physical education at Eastern Illinois University. 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 people 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 and 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 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 music lover 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.
Kris Guin is the founder and president of Queerability, a national LGBTQ and disability rights advocacy organization run by and for LGBTQ people with disabilities that works to strengthen inclusion of LGBTQ people with disabilities in conversations regarding the disability and LGBTQ communities. In addition to their work with Queerability, they were the Technical Assistance Coordinator with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network where they coordinated ASAN’s chapters all across North America and ASAN’s project, the Pacific Alliance on Disability Self Advocacy which aimed to strengthen self-advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in California, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. Kris identifies as autistic and has ADD and depression, and they identify as genderfluid and queer.
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 also writes poetry and stories.
Anita Lesko, BSN, RN, MS, CRNA
Anita went the first 50 years of her life not knowing why she was different and never fit in. A co-worker’s son had gotten diagnosed, and it was that event where Anita discovered she’s autistic, in 2011. Despite not knowing all those 50 years, Anita forged ahead and overcame one obstacle after another, accomplishing very lofty goals. In 1988 she graduated from Columbia University in New York City with her Master’s in Nurse Anesthesia. She then embarked on her 28-year career (thus far) as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. Always working full time, Anita’s specialties include anesthesia for neurosurgery, trauma, organ transplants, burns, and orthopedic joint replacements. After seeing TOP GUN in 1995, it led Anita on a journey to becoming an internationally published military aviation photojournalist, even getting a flight in an F-15 fighter jet! She also got to spend time with the world’s most elite flight demonstration squadron, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. Just how Temple Grandin spent her youth mucking out stalls, so too did Anita. That earned her riding time and lessons towards her goal of riding show jumpers in competition over six-foot-high jumps. All of this was prior to her learning she had autism!
After receiving her formal autism diagnosis, Anita has become an internationally recognized autism advocate. Her first book, ASPERGER’S SYNDROME: When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Lemonade, a memoir, caught Temple Grandin’s attention. In 2012 Temple released a book, DIFFERENT……NOT LESS, in which Anita is featured in Chapter 7, Aviation Writer & Nurse Anesthetist. She then met Craig Evans, who introduced her to world Asperger’s expert Dr. Tony Attwood. Together, the three of them edited/wrote BEEN THERE. DONE THAT. TRY THIS! The Aspie’s Guide to Life on Earth, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing in 2013. On September 26, 2015 Anita married her autistic husband Abraham, and their All-Autistic wedding at the Love & Autism Conference in San Diego attracted international media attention. Anita recently founded the Global Autism Consulting Organization. Combining her autism with her 28 years as a healthcare professional, Anita’s mission is to revolutionize healthcare for autistic individuals around the world. From her own personal experience, she recognizes the need to educate healthcare providers about autism in order for the autism community to receive optimal healthcare just like everyone else. Anita’s dream is to help others on the autism spectrum on a global scale.
Kerry Magro started his own nonprofit organization, KFM Making a Difference, focused on housing, advocacy and scholarship opportunities for individuals with autism. Kerry holds a master’s degree in strategic communication, which he received in May 2013 from Seton Hall University. In 2007, as a high school senior, Kerry won the Autism Society’s CVS All Kids Can Scholarship. 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 to 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 written a novel called Defining Autism from the Heart.
John Miller was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1968. During his childhood he worked hard to overcome many academic and social obstacles. He decided to get a Masters in Special Education to help young people succeed academically and in life. During this period he was diagnosed with autism, which answered many questions. For over a decade he has taught students with varying degrees of autism and settings. Beyond teaching, he has consulted, creating pragmatic and organizational programs for individuals with autism. For over a half a decade he has presented on a variety topics that deal with pragmatics, inclusion, transition, among others throughout the United States. Presently, he sits on the Florida board of the Autism Society and Florida Atlantic University CARD Constituency Committee. In September, he became a member of an education and programming committee at Autism Society of America. In his book Decoding Dating received the Dr. Temple Grandin Award for Outstanding Literary Work of the Year.
Jennifer O’Toole is the creator of Asperkids LLC, author of the internationally-bestselling Asperkids book series (2012-15), host of the bi-weekly “Speaking Geek” YouTube and podcast series, and an internationally-acclaimed motivational speaker. She was identified as an Aspie in 2011, just after her daughter and sons.
Jennifer is a graduate of Brown University, and did her masters’ work at Columbia & Queens Universities. Her six titles are ALL Amazon bestsellers, including several #1’s and the ASA’s 2014 Outstanding Literary Work of the Year. Jennifer is a 2015 nominee for CNN’s Heroes, is a featured contributor to “World’s Top Aspie Mentors,” a featured columnist for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party (as well as numerous other publications), and the winner of the Temple Grandin Global Contribution Award. She has advised the President’s Council at the White House, addressed Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex in England, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women in NC. Jennifer is also an award-winning educator, and mom of three (awesome) Asperkids.
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 trees, cultures and writing poetry.