Overall I would have to say, that although CEC had its moments, it is not a conference to which I will return. The high lights of the conference for me, and likely other intensive special educators, were the Simmons AT Showcase and related presentations and the Expo (which included many adaptive design, assistive technology and AAC vendors). There are two reasons I am unlikely to return: financial and relevance.
The CEC conference is expensive, for a decent price you have to be a member (which is VERY expensive) and register early, add that to travel, lodging and food and chances are that unless your school or agency is footing all or part of the bill most teachers, especially young teachers, will not be able to afford it. This year it was held an hour from my house so it was somewhat in my financial reach, but transportation and food still killed my budget for April and it is only the fifth of the month.
The second reason is my bigger reason for not returning and that is relevance. I teach intensive special needs, also called severe, profound, significant, low incidence or multiply disabilities. It is estimated that only 1-2% of learners are in this category. Special education is such a broad field covering everything from learning disabilities, sensory disabilities, autism and related disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders and physical disabilities that it is easy to understand why the lowest incidence disabilities,such as the disabilities I work with, don't get much of a billing. Yet I expected that there would be something that was relevant available for me to attend during each session. There wasn't. I spent much of my time bored and wandering the expo (after having seen every vendor at least five times this was very old), sitting around chatting with people I know or just fiddling with my computer. There were dozens and dozens of RTI workshops and more things about autism then you could possibly imagine, but very, very little for those of us in this branch of special education.
Even when something appeared to be relevant when reading the workshop description it would turn out it wasn't once I was in the room. For example one reading workshop proclaimed to be about severe cognitive disabilities, but it turned out to focus on children with an IQ of 40-55, which is not exactly severe in my corner of the sped world. Another math workshop proclaiming the same category of special needs had students doing math problems that involved reading or listening to math story about elapsed time and then solving for X to find the answer. The problem was creative and well adapted by required a knowledge base including one to one correspondence, counting to ten, forward and backward counting, an understanding of both the basics of time and using a number line not to mention a physical ability to use manipulatives. When I asked about more significantly challenged students I was chastised for having "low expectations" and told that even very involved students could probably do this and use eye gaze to respond (then I asked, "well what about non-verbal, blind and significantly cognitively challenged students" (which describes many of my students) and was told, "Oh we excluded blind and deaf students from the study." Of course they did.). When I think that I could have spent my money on the TASH conference, which I have attended in the past and which has many, many relevant workshops every session or something like Closing the Gap, CSUN or ATIA which would let me see the newest and greatest things happening in assistive technology I truly feel like I made a bad choice. I am now planning on letting my (expensive) CEC membership lapse and instead re-joining TASH.
Perhaps I can even find a way to get to the TASH New England Conference on April 15.