Autism Advocacy Day 2024 Guest Bios

Katie Terino
Heather Hegedus
Reggie Williams
Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll
Adam Walden
Senator Joanne M. Comerford
Representative Sean Garballey
Tere Ramos
Ilyse Levine-Kanji
Maura Sullivan

Katie Terino is the Chair of AFAM’s Executive Committee, as well as the President & CEO of House of Possibilities (HOPe). Katie is an innovator, a doer, and a proactive communicator with a problem-solving mindset and a deep dedication to building an inclusive, supportive community for individuals with disabilities and their families. She previously spent a decade in school administration at organizations ranging from a small start-up elementary school to major universities, spanning areas from program development to marketing and fundraising to technology. Katie has served on five nonprofit boards, and was appointed the Chair of AFAM in 2023. She is dedicated to continuing AFAM’s mission of expanding the funding and resources for Massachusetts residents with an autism diagnosis.

Heather Hegedus is the senior manager, editor, and on-air anchor of educational webcasts on Prior to this role, Heather spent 23 years as an Emmy Award-winning journalist in major U.S. cities, including NY, DC, and Boston. She is the mother of two beautiful children; her 6-year-old son has autism. Her personal experience has led to her becoming an advocate and a volunteer, dedicating her time to helping people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Reginald “Reggie” Aaron Williams is 28 years old and a Quinsigamond Community College graduate with a Human Services certificate. Reggie is a self-advocate passionate about helping other families get what they want and need for their children. Reggie is on HMEA’s Advisory Board because he believes there are families and individuals who are at a crossroads, feeling alone, lost, and helpless as they cannot obtain the services and supports needed for their loved ones. Reggie believes one resource, connection, or person can make a powerful difference to others and themselves.

Kim Driscoll is the 73rd Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She was sworn in on January 5, 2023, joining Governor Maura Healey in an historic series of firsts: Governor Healey is the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person elected Governor of Massachusetts, and together, Healey and Driscoll are the first all-women executive team to lead Massachusetts. 

Driscoll was elected the City of Salem’s first woman Mayor in 2006, taking office at a time when the community was struggling with record deficits, poor financial management, and a declining bond rating. As Mayor, she turned deficits into record surpluses and saved taxpayers’ money by strengthening city services, revitalizing Salem’s downtown, leading a vast improvement in Salem’s k-12 schools, reforming city pensions and health insurance programs to protect employee benefits, bidding public contracts, and bringing transparency to City Hall. 

Beginning with a position as the City of Beverly’s Community Development Director after college, Driscoll embarked on her long career of service to municipalities and went on to earn her law degree from the Massachusetts School of Law. Before becoming the Mayor of Salem, Driscoll served as the City of Chelsea’s Chief Legal Counsel and Deputy City Manager, and also served on the Salem City Council.

Exemplified by her extensive and successful career in local government, Lieutenant Governor Driscoll is focused on working with Governor Healey to create a forward-looking Commonwealth and communities that work for, empower, and include all who call Massachusetts home, as well as those who aspire to do so.

Adam Mandela Walden was born in Los Angeles California.  When he was 18 months old he stopped talking and by the age of 3 he was diagnosed with moderate/severe autism and epilepsy.  At the age of 2 he taught himself to play the harmonica, and without any usable language was able to sing opera phonetically.  He seemed to have an easier time understanding what was said to him if it was sung.  At age 6, his Special Olympics’ coach started to teach him the violin. Adam was so excited to learn that he kept running around the room during the lesson so we sat him in a chair, put a little cello between his legs, and Adam fell in love.  Soon after, Adam was diagnosed as having savant syndrome (type: Music) by Dr. Oliver Sacks and Dr. Darold Treffert    

When he was 7, Adam played his arrangement of “The William Tell Overture “ on MSNBC during a week of special programming on reports of rising numbers of autism diagnosis in the U.S.  At 8, he was one of the 5 children that starred in the HBO documentary “Autism The Musical” that won 2 Emmy awards, including best documentary.  He was subsequently featured in HBO’s 2020 follow up documentary “Autism: The Sequel” which follows the same 5 children as young adults this time featuring Adam becoming the first profoundly autistic student to attend a 4-year music conservatory in the world. He was selected to be California’s VSA artist of the month.  Adam is the official ambassador for Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles’ Music Therapy program.  He also received special commendation from the City of West Hollywood in honor of National Disability Month.  He is a regular performer at L.A.’s Skirball Museum and  at The Aquarium of the Pacific’s “Festival of Ability Concerts”.

Adam and his mom testified before the U.S. government’s Independent Federal Monitor for “The Chandra Smith Decree” (Supreme Court ruling on special education programs in Los Angeles) in a televised session.  Mom spoke about discovering a 23-year ban on students with autism attending the Los Angeles’ magnet school programs (specialized arts and gifted program freestanding public schools).  Adam, who speaks very little, testified by playing Bach on his cello. After his testimony, Adam became the first student with autism to attend a performing arts magnet school in the city.  The resolution of Adam’s case won access to the city’s 181 magnet schools for all students in L.A. living with autism.

Senator Joanne M. Comerford is the Chairperson of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, Assistant Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, Assistant Vice Chair on the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, and a member of the Joint Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion.  The Senator supports key disability policies that promote the health, safety, self-determination, independence, and autonomy for people with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities. Senator Comerford is also the champion of the “blue envelope” bill which aims to support safer interactions between police officers and drivers with autism. Her leadership resulted in an exciting legislative win in January 2024 when the blue envelope bill passed the Senate.

Representative Sean Garballey has been dedicated to the autism community since he began in the legislature in 2008. Representative Garballey led the efforts to pass the Higher Education Access legislation, also known as the Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative, which passed into law, in 2022.  This groundbreaking law allows people with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to attend college and have inclusive higher education experiences.

Representative Garballey is currently the lead sponsor on multiple bills that support people with autism, including a bill to strengthen and expand the Abuser Registry (Nicky’s Law), Hospital Training in Autism, and several others. The Representative has been instrumental in budget advocacy and has been a tireless voice for individuals with autism and IDD who are turning 22 and transitioning into adult services. The Representative is also the Chair of the Committee on Global Warming Climate Change. He has been honored by several disability advocacy organizations, was awarded AFAM’s Legislator of the Year in 2022 and now in 2024, he is being honored as AFAM’s Autism Champion.

Tere Ramos is AFAM’s Keynote speaker for Autism Advocacy Day.  Tere currently serves as the Executive Director at Partners for Youth with Disabilities (PYD), a national non-profit working with youth to reach their personal, educational, and career goals and guiding organizations in becoming more inclusive.

Tere has focused her career on the intersection of disability rights, special education rights and civil rights. Her life’s mission is to seek access to equal opportunities for families in underrepresented communities and those with limited English—people who are often underserved by established systems.  From 2017 to 2022 Tere ran a “tiered pricing/low bono” law practice focused on serving the large number of families in Massachusetts who did not qualify for public legal services but could not afford private special education representation. At her firm, she focused her work on representing children with disabilities in education and civil rights, especially regarding limited English proficient students with disabilities.

Prior to launching her own independent law practice, Tere had a highly impactful role as a Language Access Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI). While at MLRI, Tere worked on litigation seeking that the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Holyoke Public Schools restructure how language access services are provided to all non-English speaking families. 

Prior to her work at the MLRI, Tere worked at the Disability Law Center in Boston where she represented low income, immigrant Hispanic children with disabilities in school matters. 

Tere earned her J.D. from Boston College Law School, a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and a B.A. cum laude in Romance Languages from Wellesley College.  She is the mother of two girls with autism with very different educational and life outcomes. One is able to access college, while the other one also has a developmental disability and requires residential schooling and priority one supports from DDS. 

Ilyse Levine-Kanji is the Co-Chair of today’s Autism Advocacy Day and has been a member of AFAM’s Executive Committee for the past 9 years. On behalf of AFAM, Ilyse is leading advocacy on the Blue Envelope Bill, including meeting with legislators and staff, building a coalition of supporters in the autism and law enforcement communities, and securing publicity about the bill’s importance. Ilyse has been an active member of the Massachusetts Autism Commission’s Employment Subcommittee for the past 8 years. During the pendency of a 4-year federal grant, Ilyse served as AFAM’s representative to the Massachusetts Partnership for Transition to Employment Consortium, a systems change project of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS), designed to improve employment opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism.

For the past 5 years, Ilyse has served as a volunteer attorney at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which works to remove barriers to educational and life opportunities for children and youth. She’s also organized and coached Westborough’s Special Olympics team for the past 10 years, including having more than 80 young people with and without special needs playing basketball this past season.

In her free time, Ilyse enjoys taking ballet at Boston Ballet School and spending time with her family. She has two adult sons, the eldest of whom has autism.

Maura Sullivan is Deputy Executive Director of The Arc of Massachusetts; she was recently appointed to this role after leading Government Affairs for The Arc for the last decade. She is also the Director of Operation House Call, a nationally recognized training program and partnership between The Arc and all major Massachusetts Medical Schools. Maura is a registered lobbyist and advocates for AFAM’s policy and budget priorities with the MA legislature.

Maura’s advocacy work includes passing legislation for the autism and IDD community, such as Nicky’s Law, Police Training in Autism and Operation House Call. In her work at the State House, she has lobbied successfully for significant increases in funding for the DDS budget, the workforce and MassHealth. 

Maura participates in several national and state commissions and advisory boards, representing the autism community through her personal and professional background. 

She is a former LEND Fellow with a master’s degree in public administration from Suffolk University. Maura is also the mother of three, she has two young adult sons with autism and intellectual disability.