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USA Regional Autism Network names McDaniel new director 

Working with a local summer camp for children and adults with special needs as a teenager ignited Michelle McDaniel’s lifelong passion for serving those with disabilities.

Published Jan 25th, 2024

By Michelle Ryan

Michelle McDaniel, who was recently named director of the University of South Alabama Regional Autism Network (USARAN), brings extensive experience and a strong connection to the educational system to her role. 

“I am passionate about providing meaningful opportunities and services to those with disabilities and their families across our community and continuing to strive for better outcomes,” she said. 

Previously, she worked as a program coordinator for The CORE Project Inc., a local nonprofit corporation that provides clinical care, educational opportunities and support for those with special needs, and as director of community resources and marketing for the Autism Society of Alabama. 

For more than two decades, McDaniel has served individuals with disabilities and their families through her work in early childhood and elementary education, and early intervention.  

She was director of one of the first inclusive preschools in Mobile County. Early in her career, she provided trainings and technical assistance to other childcare providers across the community so that more daycares could feel comfortable serving children with disabilities alongside their typically developing peers.  

McDaniel served as vice president of the Gulf Coast Child Development Association and later as co-chair of the Early Intervention Council of Southwest Alabama. She was the first Sibshop facilitator in Alabama, providing a program for siblings of autistic individuals to connect with others who share similar experiences. She is also trained in the SCERTS Model, an educational approach for teaching children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. 

“I am excited to carry on the mission of the USA Regional Autism Network,” McDaniel said. “Community education and advocacy for autistic individuals and their families have been an important focus over the past decade for me, and I am especially passionate about improving access to services in rural communities.” 

She has collaborated with agencies and individuals across Alabama to provide community trainings, workshops, and conferences. Her goal is to build upon those collaborations with community partners to educate autistic individuals, their families, and the professionals who serve them about available resources and how to best access them. 

McDaniel holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in collaborative special education, both from the University of South Alabama, where she received the Chronis Award for Special Education as a graduate student.

She began her journey in the field as a teenager working as a volunteer counselor at Camp SMILE, a local summer camp for children and adults with special needs. Her experience there ignited a lifelong passion for serving individuals with disabilities. 

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