Exceptional Lives’ Guides are developed and reviewed with subject matter experts, based on the latest research and best practices. Here are some of our experts:
Jay O’Brien was a co-founder of Exceptional Lives and has worked in the disability field for 15 years, following positions in the US Senate in Washington and high-tech communications in Boston. His experience includes nine years as a field office director and corporate fundraiser for Special Olympics Massachusetts. Jay received an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School where he was a Harvard Alumni Public Service Fellow. He has a BA from Holy Cross College.
Karen practices in the areas of special needs estate planning, guardianship, and disability law. She has been a highly-regarded lawyer in private practice for more than 30 years, in both New York City and Boston. She is a passionate advocate for her clients, including people who have family members with special needs. She and her husband have a severely autistic son who is now a young adult, living at home, so she understands how to navigate the system and what parents go through. Karen has degrees from Northwestern University and Indiana University.
Theresa is a Parent Partner at Bay Cove Human Services in Boston. She helps parents identify and access resources, providing them with information and referrals to community organizations, support groups and local schools. In her role as a parent advocate, she works closely with the MA Department of Mental Health (DMH) and Department of Children and Families (DCF). She is also a Lead Fellow for Family Independence Initiative of Boston, and founder of Parents Of Purpose, a support group for parents and guardians raising children with developmental disabilities. Born in Boston and raised in Cambridge, Theresa is the proud mother and advocate of a young lady named Brianna.
Deirdre B. Phillips
Deirdre is Managing Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. Based at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Center provides innovative public education about mental health, and develops timely and engaging advice to help parents address challenges facing their children. She previously served as Executive Director of the Autism Consortium, an innovative collaboration that contributed to Boston’s becoming a nationally-respected center for autism research and care. Deirdre is a longtime advocate for the needs of transition-aged youth and increased employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. She serves on the Massachusetts Autism Commission and is a graduate of Wheaton College.
Elaine M. Gabovitch
Elaine is the Division Director for Children & Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) at the MA Department of Public Health. Previously she served as the CDC’s Act Early Ambassador and State Team Leader for Massachusetts. She is as an Instructor at the UMass Medical School-Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program (LEND) and University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD). Elaine is the parent of a son with ASD who is the inspiration for her work. She is a graduate of the Shriver Center LEND program and Suffolk University’s Sawyer School of Management.
Shari is the Program Director for the Massachusetts Sudden Infant Death Center and Boston Medical Center (BMC) Autism Program in the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and Boston University/Boston Medical Center. She provides clinical oversight of both programs, as well as personnel management, public relations, program implementation and strategic planning, coordination and delivery of training and clinical consultation, and advocacy and community networking. Shari holds an MA in Counseling Psychology and is currently an MPH candidate at Boston University.
Gayle is a social worker, educational advocate, and consultant. Gayle received her MSW from Boston University and went through the training program at the Federation for Children with Special Needs to become an Educational Consultant. Gayle has been working and volunteering with children and adolescents with disabilities for over 25 years. Gayle has volunteered with the Northfield Mount Hermon School, Families First, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Federation with Children with Special Needs and Room to Grow. Gayle also has led child assault prevention programs in the Newton and Needham public schools.
Daniel S. Perlman
Daniel is a special education attorney with offices located in Acton, MA. He has served as case law attorney for Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC), a leading educational advocacy organization. He represents and advises families of children with special needs from across the state, including on special education disputes. He is a graduate of Northeastern University Law School and the University of Massachusetts. In both 2015 and 2016, Daniel was selected as a Rising Star among Massachusetts attorneys by Super Lawyers. He frequently presents on special education and school discipline law.
Theresa M Varnet
Theresa is a special needs attorney with Fletcher Tilton PC. She has been an advocate for persons with disabilities for more than 40 years. In addition to being a lawyer, she is a certified teacher, licensed social worker, and the parent of a disabled adult daughter. She has served as social services director in a residential school for children with multiple disabilities, coordinator for a special education cooperative, and as a citizen advocacy/disability rights coordinator. Theresa has degrees from the University of Massachusetts, University of Connecticut, and DePaul University.