Spectrum Connection

Chris Chagnon and Rob Ferragamo are committed to helping young adults with autism succeed. With backgrounds in psychology and sociology, the men both work at a school for students with developmental delays. Spectrum Connection was developed in their off hours to provide a safe and welcoming group to address a decline in social skills primarily caused by the COVID pandemic. Individuals are selected based on need, capacity, and cohesion of all members.

The program has continued to grow over the past two years and serves an average of 8-10 adults per activity.  Some key milestones include introducing a Women’s Group, providing combined outings for all genders, and offering weekend getaways throughout New England and New York City. Their next goal is to expand support to those 18 and older in hopes of easing anxiety leading up to their transition to adult services. Their overarching hope is to be able to continue making a positive impact on the lives of individuals both on and among the autism spectrum.

East Coast Jumbos

East Coast Jumbos Hockey Program is an organization whose goal is to provide a positive athletic and social experience for athletes with autism and other developmental disabilities who wish to participate in the great sport of ice hockey.

Founded in 2007 by Waltham native Ray LeBlanc, with only five players, the team now has over 50 athletes ranging in age from seven through adulthood, and all ages are welcome. The team is not focused only on hockey, but hopes to help participants grow and learn, build their confidence, increase communication skills, and develop and maintain relationships both inside and outside the hockey environment.


Sean M. O’Brien
Teamsters General President

Sean M. O’Brien is a fourth generation Teamster and the General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. He joined Teamsters Local 25 at the age of 18 working in the rigging industry and became a business agent in 1999 and, in 2006, the youngest President in Local 25’s 128-year history. In 2011, he was elected Teamsters Eastern Region Vice President and served as Teamsters Joint Council 10 New England Secretary-Treasurer until last February.

O’Brien has worked tirelessly to increase the membership of the Teamsters, both locally and nationally, and has been successful in organizing workers and negotiating strong contracts in a variety of diverse industries. He’s committed to winning and defending strong national contracts, organizing new members, and aggressively taking on employers. O’Brien is focused on mobilizing rank-and-file Teamsters through education and increased engagement—traveling extensively to visit with members at worksites throughout the country.

O’Brien has worked just as hard to increase funds and awareness for autism. He worked with state leaders to pass the autism insurance law in Massachusetts, and through the Local 25 Autism Gala has raised several million dollars that has been donated back to organizations that help people with autism in school and in the workplace. During his time in Boston, he sat on the New England Board for Autism Speaks.

O’Brien also serves as a member of the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport) Board of Directors and is Co-Chairman and Trustee of the New England Teamsters Pension Fund. He is the proud father of two sons, Sean Jr. and Joseph.


Federation for Children with Special Needs

The Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) leads Massachusetts and the nation in family-based training and support for both parents of children with disabilities and the professionals who serve them. Our unique approach to working with families, educators, healthcare providers, and other professional partners has allowed FCSN to serve as a forum for information, empowerment, and systemic change. FCSN advocates for inclusive education, strong parent participation, supportive family-school partnerships, and access to high-quality health care services for children. FCSN is the leading organization promoting best practices in family and community engagement in Massachusetts.

2022 Essential Puzzle Piece Honoree


The William E. Russell Elementary School is a diverse group of 400 talented, hard-working and energetic K-5 students, located in Dorchester. The curriculum is focused on the wellbeing of the whole student. Literacy, language, science, math, the arts and physical education programs are all infused with lessons and core values in social and emotional learning and wellness. Technology, exploring the outdoors and a community garden are all part of the learning tools at the school. The Center Based Classroom was designed to support students with autism and developmental delays. It is a small class setting with a teacher and paraprofessional. They work hand in hand with administrators and therapists to create a class environment that best fits the students and their needs.

Through a Teamsters Local 25 Autism Fund grant, furniture and matting was purchased for the room. The grant was also used to purchase weighted blankets and vests that help students feel comforted and help calm their bodies during moments of frustration, anxiety, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. The Teamsters Local 25 Women’s Committee has donated more than 300 backpacks filled with school supplies students at the school.

Past Honorees of the Teamsters Local 25 Autism Gala

The Honorable Robert A. DeLeo
Massachusetts Speaker of the House

House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) represents the Town of the Winthrop and a portion of the City of Revere. He has served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives since 1991 and became Speaker of the House on January 28, 2009. On Jan. 2, 2018, the House re-elected him as Speaker, his sixth term as Speaker.

An award-winning legislator, Speaker DeLeo seeks to empower individuals, families and communities by focusing on legislation that keeps cities and towns safer and healthier, creates jobs, and increases educational opportunities. Under his leadership, the House passed nation-leading legislation relating to early education and care, fighting the opioid crisis, economic development, gun safety, veteran’s benefits, criminal justice reform, clean energy, and protecting civil rights for all.

Speaker DeLeo is a graduate of Boston Latin School. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northeastern University and a Juris Doctorate from Suffolk University Law School. He received an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from Suffolk University in 2009 and an honorary degree from Salem State University in 2012. A grandfather of two, Speaker DeLeo resides in Winthrop.


Larry Cancro
Senior Vice President/Fenway Concerts and Entertainment
Chairman, New England Chapter of Autism Speaks

A veteran of 40 years in Major League Baseball, including 33 years with the Red Sox, Larry Cancro is responsible for concerts at Fenway Park. Since 2003, Cancro has been instrumental in bringing major musical acts to Fenway Park, including Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Zac Brown Band, Paul McCartney and Billy Joel. Cancro was Vice President of Sales and Marketing from January 1996-2003 and Senior Vice President of Fenway Affairs from 2003-2015. He joined the Red Sox in 1985 as Director of Marketing and became Vice President of Marketing in February of 1990.

During Cancro’s tenure in sales and marketing, the Red Sox set six club season attendance records. He started the Friendly Fenway fan program that resulted in fan favorites like “Sweet Caroline” and “Dirty Water.” He was on the Red Sox 1999 All-Star Game Task Force and developed the Futures Game, now an annual event at MLB All-Star week. He is also the creator of Wally the Green Monster™.

Cancro is chairman of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau. He is also the chairman of the New England Chapter of Autism Speaks and Chairman of the Board of Directors for Melmark-New England.

In 1989, Larry was instrumental in the development of Challenger Division Baseball. Headquartered in Bristol, CT the Challenger Division was established in 1989 as a separate division of Little League to enable boys and girls with physical and mental challenges, ages 4-18 (or up to age 22 if still enrolled in high school) to enjoy the game of baseball along with the millions of other children who participate in this sport worldwide. Today, more than 30,000 children participate in more than 900 Challenger Divisions worldwide. As a result of Larry’s efforts the Boston Red Sox were a founding sponsor of the Challenger Division.

In 2004, Larry was named “Man of the Year” by GBARC (Greater Boston Association for Retarded Citizens.) The ARC is a grassroots organization dedicated to improving the quality of life and services for citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities through advocacy of supports and services based in the community.

In 2006, Larry was honored with the “Spirit of Compassion” award by the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, Inc.

In 2010, Larry played a significant role in advocating for the signing of the House Bill 4935 (An Act Relative to Insurance Coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder) requiring private health insurance plans to provide coverage of evidence-based, medically necessary autism therapies for people of all ages. The legislation also established an Autism Commission in Massachusetts. The signing took place at Fenway Park in August of 2010.

In 2012, Larry was the recipient of the Boston University Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award and the Boston University Athletic Department Roger “Moose” Washburn Memorial Award.

In 2014, Larry played a significant role in helping to create Major League Baseball’s initiative to increase autism awareness throughout baseball by instituting an Autism Awareness Day each season at every Major League ballpark.

Also in 2014 Larry was named the Honorary Commander of Hanscom Air Force Base.

In 2016, Larry received the HMEA (Horace Mann Educational Associates) “Corporate Partner Award”, and was also honored by Autism Speaks at Fenway Park for his efforts and accomplishments within the autism community.

Cancro is a graduate of Boston University with a B.A. degree in psychology. In 1978, he began his career in pro baseball with the Eastern League Jersey Indians and he joined the Atlanta Braves in 1979. Cancro resides in Andover, MA with his wife, Luise. They have two daughters, Laura Marie, and Lisa.



Boston Higashi School

The Higashi School, based in Randolph, is one of two schools of its kind in the world. Founded in 1987 by the late Dr. Kiyo Kitahara and Katsuhei Kitahara, the school uses daily life therapy®, an educational model that incorporates physical exercise, emotional stability and intellectual stimulation, into the daily schedule. For instance, students begin each school day with a jog around the campus. The arts, and music, plays an integral role at the school. The Higashi Jazz Band has been providing students opportunities for mastery of more advanced instruments, to work harmoniously in a group, to develop self-confidence and pride, and most importantly, to contribute to the joy of his/her family, friends, and society as a whole. The Boston Higashi Jazz Band has performed on the local, national, and international level.

2017 Essential Puzzle Piece Honoree

Nicholas Wells Landry, 29 years old, is a permanent substitute teacher with the Marshfield Public School System. A native of Marshfield, Nick is combining his love of teaching with his love of sports as he is also the assistant football coach for the Rams football team. In 2012, Nick obtained his Massachusetts teacher license and his goal is to be a secondary social studies teacher.

At the age of 3 Nick began receiving speech, occupational and physical therapy services. His neurologist, Dr. Margaret Bauman, has been a constant advocate on his behalf, especially regarding educational services for autism spectrum disorders. His diagnosis evolved into Asperger’s Syndrome when he was 12 years old.

During his high school years, Nick was the manager of Marshfield High’s football and girls basketball teams, a Freshman Class Officer, and was the recipient of the Class of 1972 School Spirit Award. After graduation in 2006, he enrolled at Emmanuel College as a history major.

At Emmanuel, Nick was the Manager of the Women’s Basketball team that won four consecutive conference championships and advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Nick worked at the Jean Yawkey Student Center and won the Mr. Emmanuel contest his sophomore year. Graduating with a Degree in History in 2010, Nick received the Director’s Award given to a student who provides service and leadership to co-curricular life at the college. In 2010, he was honored by the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, with a Commissioner’s Award, for his“hard work and dedication to the Saints athletic program (that) have been an inspiration to both the student-athletes and the athletic department staff at Emmanuel.” He was also Emmanuel’s “Manager of the Year.”

Nick started his teaching career at the Mission Grammar School in Boston in 2010. Since 2011, he has worked as a substitute teacher in the towns of Pembroke, Scituate and Marshfield. He’s been a building substitute since 2014 in Marshfield and is a constant presence at many of the school’s athletic events.


2016 Honorees


Traci Glynn

Traci Glynn lives by the philosophy that, “Teaching isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. The philosophy of inclusion has become a cornerstone of my teaching style. I believe that no child should live or learn in isolation.” She has taught pre-school in both inclusive and substantially separate settings at Tufts Educational Day Care, Burlington Early Childhood Center and Northeast Arc, and loves helping children this age because she gets to work intimately with both child and family.  

Traci has a bachelor’s degree from Merrimack College, and graduated from Leslie University with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education PreK-2 with and without moderate disabilities and an Advanced Graduate Certificate in Autism Studies.

Betty Killgoar

Betty spent 35 years working in the Boston Public Schools, first as a classroom teacher and then the Early Education Childhood Autism Liason. She helped to spearhead the BPS Program for Children with Autism, that promotes collaboration, writing grants, and providing professional development for teachers and paraprofessionals as well as establishing a support group for families. She continues to be considered the “go to” professional for children with developmental disabilities. Since retiring, she continues to consult with inclusion programs for students.

Patricia Piacentini

Tricia Piacentini transitioned to a career teaching special education after both of her children were diagnosed with autism. As a parent-professional, Tricia has long appreciated the home school connection that is required for children with autism to meet their potential. 

Moved by the dedication and expertise of the teachers who helped shape her own children’s success, Tricia began working for Early Intervention, a zero to 3 program for children with special needs. Later, she would help to develop a substantially separate ABA program in the Amesbury Public Schools. She is currently a special education teacher in the Reading Public Schools, working with students in grades kindergarten through second grade in the Developmental Learning Program, a district wide program servicing children with autism and other developmental disabilities. 

Colum Whyte

Colum has worked in the Boston Public Schools since 2004, and has been at the Joseph Lee School in Dorchester since 2005. This school has a very large specialized autism program, with 17 classes in preK-8. He’s taught social studies, reading and writing, and an honors program, and his classrooms have included those with developmental disabilities working alongside higher functioning students. He helped to coordinate visits by national union leaders and Senator Elizabeth Warren to the Lee School to showcasethe autism program.

He’s an active member of the Boston Teacher’s Union, serving on the executive board and as co-editor of the local’s paper. In 2014, the Boston Red Sox named Colum a “Most Valuable Educator.” A graduate of Boston Latin School and UMASS Boston, he has a Masters in Urban Education from Simmons College. A native of Dorchester, he lives in West Roxbury with his wife and one-year-old son.

Dawn Woodman

Dawn Woodman’s personal mission is to advocate for children with special needs; and empower parents as they go through the complicated Individual Educational Plan (IEP) process. As President of the Revere Special Education Advisory Council for nearly 10 years, she’s helped countless families navigate the IEP process and get the best program for their child. She continues to consult for the organization. Dawn and the Revere SEPAC team have raised over $70,000 for Autism Speaks, a cause very close to her heart.

In 2009 she was honored as a Massachusetts “Unsung Heroine” for her acts of kindness and service to the community of Revere. Dawn lives in Revere and has two teenage girls.

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