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Calls to Action

Hacking Autism Advisory Board

The Hacking Autism Advisory Board assists teams working on autism apps and technology by providing oversight, guidance, advice and assitance. The board is a collection of autism experts, technologists and volunteers dedicated to the mission of Hacking Autism.

Phil McKinney: (formerly) HP PSG CTO
Phil McKinney is former vice president and chief technology officer in the Personal Systems Group at HP. He is responsible for long-range strategic planning and research and development (R&D) for all of the company's PC product lines, including displays, mobile devices, notebooks, desktops and workstations.

Previously, McKinney served as vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) for the Communication, Media and Entertainment business at HP, where he was responsible for executive CTO relationships with customers, long-range strategy and R&D for HP's largest industry-vertical business segment.

Before joining HP, McKinney was senior vice president and founding chief information officer for Teligent, a global provider of fixed-wireless services. At Teligent, he led strategy development, IT infrastructure and global operations, managing a team of more than 1,000.

Prior to joining Teligent, McKinney held senior executive positions at Computer Sciences Corporation, where he directed communications industry consulting engagements worldwide and oversaw the division that provided mission-critical system outsourcing for more than 165 wireless and broadband service providers. McKinney serves on the board of directors for Signafor Inc., The Computer History Museum and The Tech Museum along with the innovation board for Roche Diagnostics. He also serves on the executive board of the Santa Clara County Council for the Boy Scouts of America.

A leading authority on innovation and its impact on business, the economy and culture, McKinney speaks to worldwide audiences at conferences and through his blog ( and weekly podcast ( Dubbed "chief seer" by The San Jose Mercury News, McKinney is a contributing columnist for Forbes and writes the column "The Objective" for and was named one of the "25 Most Influential People in Mobile Tech" by LAPTOP Magazine in 2010.


Andy Shih: Autism Speaks Technology Lead

Andy Shih works closely with members of the Autism Speaks board, Scientific Advisory committee, senior staff and volunteer leadership to develop and implement the organization's research program. He also oversees the administration of the organization's grant-making process for research. Andy joined the National Alliance for Autism Research (NAAR) in 2002. Prior to joining NAAR, Andy had served as an industry consultant and was a member of the faculty at Yeshiva University and New York University Langone Medical Center. He earned his PhD in cellular and molecular biology from the NYU Langone Medical Center.

Andy's research background includes published studies in gene identification and characterization, virus-cell interaction, and cell-cycle regulation. He was instrumental in the cloning of a family of small GTPases involved in cell-cycle control and nuclear transport and holds three patents on nucleic acids-based diagnostics and therapeutics. Andy is a resident of Queens, where he lives with his wife, daughter and son.


Chris Mertens: Vice President HP PSG US Healthcare Sales
As the vice president for healthcare business development, Chris Mertens is responsible for sales and business development, delivering client-based solutions across HP's healthcare segments. This includes working with integrated healthcare systems, hospitals and community hospitals. Mertens' other responsibilities include working with ISVs to deliver solutions to the physician marketplace within the United States. He is the Executive Sponsor of HP's Healthcare Customer Advisory Council.

Mertens has more than 25 years of experience in sales and sales management. Starting in 1988 at Compaq, Mertens has held a variety of positions, including area director, New England, responsible for sales and field system engineering for all of the company's products and solutions marketed in the commercial space within New England. His previous positions have included major account manager, marketing manager, national account manager and commercial/enterprise sales manager calling on the healthcare, financial services, pharmaceutical, consulting, manufacturing and telecommunications industries.

Upon the completion of the HP/Compaq merger, Mertens was appointed vice president, East region for the Personal Systems/Volume Sales Group for HP. He held this position for more than seven years prior to his role in healthcare.

Mertens is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and is the father of a young man with autism.


David Canora: Chairman at Quest, Inc.
David is the father of a son with autism. His search to find help for Daniel led him to Quest, Inc. where his son receives Applied Behavior Analysis therapy and attends school. David was so moved by Quest's mission that he joined the board and currently serves as Chairman.

Quest helps people with disabilities achieve their dreams of going to school, having a job, living on their own, and experiencing summer camp. As Central Florida's premier provider of these services, Quest makes a difference in the lives of nearly 1,100 people each day and has been part of the community for nearly 50 years. Quest provides Applied Behavior Analysis therapy services and operates two schools for children with autism.

By day, David is Principal Technical Specialist with Disney Parks where he leads new technology initiatives. If you've used Disney's PhotoPass service, you're familiar with his work. He's passionate about innovation & intellectual property and has over ten patents pending.

David spends time with his family enjoying attractions and destinations throughout Central Florida, and participates in FIRST Lego League with his son, Dominic.


Jim St. Leger: Intel
Jim has a high functioning ASD Asperger's son. His offspring experience has catalyzed him to get educated about autism and become actively involved in the community driving awareness and education while also monitoring technology developments that aid in the development of autistic children.

Jim St. Leger is the technology marketing manager in Intel's Embedded and Communications Group. His broad industry experience spans various manufacturing, product engineering, and marketing roles in the automotive, aerospace, and semiconductor equipment industries. He holds degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (a.k.a. RPI) and Northwestern University (McCormick School of Engineering School & Kellogg School of Management.) His passion for supporting research and advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of autism stems from his son who is on the autism spectrum. Some of that passion can be seen in an Ignite Phoenix talk he gave on autism in 2010: He spends his off-hours focused on his family, the outdoors, and local hacker spaces. Follow him on Twitter: @Intel_Jim.


Jennifer Leighton: Spaulding Outpatient Center for Children
I believe that communication should extend beyond conveying basic wants and needs, and that it should be possible for one to spontaneously and independently express all aspects of their personality. Clearly the increased accessibility of mobile technology has spurred families to move forward in this direction to help their children and loved ones to be more successfully able to communicate and access activities that were previously unavailable to them. It is extraordinarily important in this process of utilizing this new technology that a person's unique communication needs be evaluated and that the system and apps chosen, be adaptable, changeable, and accommodating to an individual's ongoing growth and development, as well as being able to meet the person's current needs. I am honored to be a part of the Hacking Autism project, which is creating a well thought-out program that will be effective and helpful to the children and families whom we serve.

Jennifer Leighton, M.A., CCC-SLP has worked here at Spaulding Outpatient Center for Children at the Lurie Center, previously known as LADDERS, for the past five years, 8 months. She is a Speech-Language Pathologist who spent the first ten years of her career working with adults with neurogenic, voice and swallowing disorders. She has been working with children for the last 13 years. During the past two years, she has additionally been working with adults with developmental disabilities, specifically Autism Spectrum Disorders. Her background with patients having sustained acquired brain injuries has truly prepared her for her work with children and young adults having developmental disabilities, learning disabilities and with children on the Autism Spectrum.

Jennifer is highly devoted to both the children and now adults with whom she works as well as their families. She is greatly motivated to completely determine what it is that is going on with each individual student so that she can help the family and the child to better have their communication/learning needs met. She does feel a great deal of her position requires supporting the families.

Jennifer initiated running social skills groups here at this clinic when she started working here. They are co-led by an SLP and an OT and she is hoping to expand this program further by developing a "camp" program for children to take place over school vacation times. She is hopeful that the camp will have a musical theater component to the program.

Jennifer for a long time has been tremendously invested in making language visual for children and in encouraging parents and staff to do the same, through low tech visual supports such as picture symbols, text cues, picture schedules, use of PECS and/or static display communication books, Aided Language Stimulation, and visual positive behavior support systems. She greatly believes that behavior and communication are inextricably linked and attempts to determine the function of the behavior and then substitute it with an appropriate communicative means. In the clinic a few low tech communication devices are available for such purposes. Jennifer has also been tremendously interested in the role that literacy plays with regard to language development and has incorporated literacy learning via use of picture symbols and text, into language based sessions to facilitate a variety of language functions including sentence formulation and language comprehension. Use of assistive technology plays a very important role in addressing.


Katherine Grandbois
Individuals with autism have benefitted from technology for years, though many forms of this technology, such as touch screens, have not been widely available until relatively recently. Now that this technology is more affordable and available, there is a clear need for software programs that are specifically designed for individuals with autism to also be affordable and available. I am excited to work on a project that will target creating such programs, especially for a population with such unique needs.

Katherine is a speech and language pathologist with 6 years of clinical experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum, and 2 years experience in autism research. Her areas of clinical specialty include autism and other developmental / neurological disorders, language development and disorders, speech development and disorders, social skills, and augmentative alternative communication. Katherine graduated with her masters in communication disorders from Emerson College, and lives in Boston, MA with her husband and daughter.


Shannon Kay Ph.D., BCBA-D: Executive Director, May Center for Child Development
I am interested in participating in the advisory committee because I am excited by the opportunity to contribute to the development augmentative communication applications that may help children on the Autism Spectrum. Additionally, I am very interested in using portable touch screen technology to help our children learn and to collect data on the best learning methodologies.

Shannon Kay, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is the Executive Director of the May Center for Child Development in West Springfield, Massachusetts. The May Center is a full-time, year-round school for children ages 3-22 with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Dr. Kay received her master's degree in psychology at Connecticut College and her doctorate in School Psychology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is a Licensed Psychologist and Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Her primary research interests include treatment integrity, verbal behavior in children with autism, and parent training.


Tara Roehl SpeechykeenSLP
Tara Roehl is a nationally certified Speech-Language Pathologist. She runs her own private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. In recent years, Tara has expanded her practice by working with individuals with disabilities outside of the United States, including developing long distance remote speech therapy approaches with individuals in Rwanda and the Philippines. Tara also runs a Special Needs Program at her church to improve the inclusion of individuals with special needs and their families into the religious community.

Earlier in her career, Tara worked as a speech therapist in the public school systems in Illinois and California, working as the lead speech therapist on the Autism diagnostic team for a Bay Area public preschool. Most recently, Tara worked in a private practice clinic focusing on the social/pragmatic needs of students with ADHD, High Functioning Autism, Aspergers and related disorders.

Tara holds Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.