August 16, 2017


Professional development for educators can include a wide variety of activities and opportunities for on-going learning. For some, professional development might include a workshop. For others, it might include taking courses for credit. There is a wide continuum of options when it comes to professional development as a whole! In terms of autism-specific professional development, VCU-ACE offers a variety of content topics as well as a continuum of delivery methods. We have online training activities that anyone who lives or works in Virginia can utilize for free. Our online courses include topics from understanding the basics of ASD to learning more about evidence-based practices and intensive behavioral interventions. VCU-ACE also offers intensive technical assistance to selected school divisions in an effort to produce systems change. Yet another option here at VCU-ACE includes Communities of Leaders in Autism, or CoLA.

CoLA is a professional learning community designed to help bridge the research to practice gap often found surrounding autism spectrum disorder and evidence-based interventions. Professional learning communities, such as CoLA, encourage collaborative work among teachers, administrators, and outside experts. CoLA is a statewide effort supported by the Virginia Department of Education and coordinated through a collaborative effort by the VCU Autism Center for Excellence and statewide Training Technical and Assistance Centers. CoLA members network and collaborate on various topics at regional meetings and at the annual Summer Institute. This year’s Summer Institute was held in June and included keynote speakers, poster sessions, and break-out learning sessions presented by a wide variety of professionals throughout the state.

In the coming months we will share information and content from presentations shared by ACE and T/TAC staff as well as school division personnel from around the Commonwealth.

D.J. Svoboda Keynote Speaker

This month, we would like to highlight our keynote speaker, D.J. Svoboda.

We were excited to have D.J. speak at the CoLA Summer Institute. D.J. Svoboda is an artist, an advocate, and an adult with ASD. In his keynote address, D.J. shared about his experiences as a student who was teased and bullied. This experience led him to create the land of Imagiville where everyone is treated kindly and accepted just the way they are. D.J. has created over 1000 Imagifriends to spread a message of hope, inspiration, and awareness.

D.J.'s Creation "Mupperezmo"

In his keynote, D.J. shared that he appreciates the opportunity to tell others about his experiences as a person with autism. He shared that having autism is just like his creation, Mupperezmo. Affectionately called “Mupp,” this Imagifriend is a dragon-like character who turns his head upside-down to see the world from a different point of view.

D.J. sums up his message in this way: “All those with Autism have a great and amazing and awesome place in this world and they too can make a great and amazing difference AND they can fulfill and accomplish their big, big dreams!”

D.J.’s inspirational keynote was appreciated by the 130 autism leaders from around the Commonwealth attending the CoLA Summer Institute. Jennifer McMichael, CoLA Summer Institute participant, stated D.J.’s keynote exemplified her hopes and goals for the students with whom she works. “Hearing D.J. speak about Imagiville made my heart swell to hear a young man with so much passion and purpose in his life. He not only opens our eyes to the future possibilities for our students, but exemplifies the characteristics we work and pray for, resiliency, joy, fulfillment, and engagement. His wonderful sense of humor was an added treat for us all! It has been wonderful to share D.J.’s success with my colleagues.”

For more information about D.J. and to see his artwork, you can visit his website:

This fall, we’ll cover more content from the topics from CoLA such as: Embedding and Managing Classroom Data, Self-Monitoring for All Learners, Creating Coaching: Development of the Bedford County Peer to Peer Coaching Model, The Nest Model in Franklin County and more!

Want to Learn More???

Learn more about CoLA at

With a new school year starting soon, don’t forget to register on the MyACE Dashboard for professional development opportunities:

As always, take a look at our resources on our website:

Don't Forget!!!!

This year’s webcast series includes many different speakers such as: Benjamin Allen from I’m Determined, Brenda Smith-Myles a consultant for OCALI (Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence), and many more! To register for this year’s full series, please click here: