Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Looking Ahead to the 50th Annual Meeting…in Boston

By Roger Larson, CAE | Executive Director

Roger Larson, CAE | Executive Director
Roger Larson, CAE Executive Director

Like many of you, I find myself struggling with a mild variant of pseudo-schizophrenia these days, holding animated conversations on solitary walks with at least three different “inner selves”:

1. My pre-2016/pre-Trump-twittered sane-and-stable self;

2. My 2020 Year of Living Derangedly Trump-twittered/COVID-quarantined fragmented self, and

3. My post-January 20, 2021 post-vaccinated hopeful self.

Thanks to bluetooth, a new normal now prevails allowing me to carry on conversations in public without anyone giving it a second glance or thought.

My pre-2020 pre-quarantined self was sufficiently attuned to CNS members that I could sense what they were thinking and ask questions I’m sure they would want answered. Questions posed by that “pre-2020 Roger” appear in bold italic face in the transcript below, with responses from the “post-2020 Roger” appearing in regular type.

Let’s start out with the easy one: Will the CNS be meeting live in Boston this fall?

That’s the “easy” one?

OK, forget “easy.” How about “the obvious one,” the question everyone wants to know the answer to: Will the CNS be meeting live in Boston this fall?

Well, I hope so. I might even go out on a limb and say “I think so.” (Long pause)

There’s a hanging ‘but’ there waiting to fall. I can feel it.

But – it seems like every sentence starts with ‘but’ these days – that doesn’t really get at the real complexity of the questions or answers – note the ‘plural’. Take last year, for instance. In early March 2020 we were comfortably certain we would be meeting in San Diego for the long awaited, once-in-a-generation joint meeting of the CNS and ICNA. Remember? We had posted the scientific program featuring over 65 sessions and more than 200 international speakers. We were planning on 2500 attendees and looking at overflow, cheaper hotels for ICNA members from lower resource countries. Sponsor and exhibitor interest was sky high and ocean deep. And we were half-way through an abstract submission period some predicted would yield between 700-900 posters. How to finesse that many posters seemed like the biggest headache we’d confront in 2020. Life was one long, sunny, lazy – “easy” – day at the beach. And then…..

And then?

And then suddenly it wasn’t. COVID morphed from being a peripheral “back-page” international story that might – might – include a handful of new issues to problem-solve vis a vis overseas delegates coming to San Diego, into a lead story that left you wondering if anyone in the US was still going to be alive, or at least actively open for business. That all came on so fast that it seemed like there were no answers out there, just questions.

Such as: “To Be or Not to Be?”


…With the bronze sculpture of Hamlet. Which, I notice, you’re not using again this year.

Well, last year it made sense. An international meeting, an internationally recognized icon, the big existential question, and all that…

So you decided to go with a bronze sculpture of Paul Revere? What is that supposed to signal?

Well, I don’t know if it “signals” anything. I mean, we could have been “cute” and tweaked Hamlet’s “To Be or Not to Be” to read “To ‘B’ or Not to ‘B’” as in, To Boston or not to Boston? (that is the question).” That wasn’t really the point. Or not quite the point. You want people to see Paul Revere, think Freedom Trail, and go “Oh, yeah – we’re meeting in Boston!” But you still need to leave room for the element of doubt. Now, Longfellow’s no Shakespeare, and Revere had fewer “mother issues,” for what that’s worth, but “The Midnight Ride” with its two lanterns hung in the Old North Church is just as handy as Hamlet for presenting a stark “either/or” such as: “One if in Boston, Two if On-line.” Of course, it’s a little more complex this year. 

“Complex” how?

Instead of simple either/or questions – ”Yes or no? Will their be a meeting or not? Will it be live or virtual? – you have a lot of “how” and “how many?” questions. “How many people do you think can will be allowed to meet live in Boston this fall and how many do you think won’t?” “How many people do you think will want to travel to Boston to spend four days in semi-crowded meeting rooms (even with, I assume, pretty strict social distancing, masks, testing etc in place)? And how many institutions will allow or pay for their doctors to go?

OK, I get it. Let’s assume stir-crazed, professional necessity, FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”) dynamics are all in play. It’s been a long quarantined, zoom-draining stretch for everyone, and it is the 50th/Golden Anniversary Meeting, after all. How is that a problem? You want people to be excited to come, right?

Right. But that’s where things get tricky. What we’re still faced with right now, nationwide, is a situation where convention centers and hotels are cautiously looking to open  up to 10-25 per cent capacity. We signed a contract with the Hynes Convention Center and the Sheraton Boston Hotel based on an anticipated attendance of 1,600+. So when you look at a current seating chart for the biggest meeting room at the Hynes that should seat 2,000, but will now only accommodate 200, it’s pretty alarming. The Sheraton won’t even be reopening until May 1. Translate all of that across the full 4 or 5 days in the fall, with all the scientic sessions, exhibits, smaller meetings, big receptions, etc, cross-hatched with all the restrictive health and safety protocols that haven’t even been tried out in yet in big venues in “real time” and you begin to wonder: Is this even viable?

Is it?

(Slowly, hesitantly): Yeah…I think so. If we’re patient and creative and everything breaks in the right direction, meaning we don’t have a resurgence or the vaccination threshhold fails to reach a still-too-fuzzy-for-my-taste herd immunity level that will make standing in line at TSA again less stressful. Look, there’s lots of ways to make this work.

Such as?

Well, “Hybrid,” first and last. It’s going to have to be a hybrid meeting. Meaning we will have a critical mass of members meeting live in Boston for sessions that will simultaneously be live-streamed to anyone around the world that wants to share the 50-year celebration experience with their colleagues, but without taking on unpalatable risk. If we’re lucky, that 10-25 percent capacity max will relax by September so that we can fill rooms to 50, or maybe even 60 percent capacity, meaning maybe 800-1,000 people can come to Boston.

And those who can’t come can still catch every CME session virtually, just like they did last fall, and can somehow virtually network and celebrate with those gathered in Boston. I’d love to see how creative our members can get. Maybe a few of them can stage one-day satellite meetings in regional hub cities, for example, something maybe 100-125 members would drive to in order to reunite and celebrate with at least some CNS friends, if not all of them. They’d see each other and share on a big screen what is going on simultaneously in Boston and other hub cities, kind of like people do on New Year’s Eve with big screens showing crowds in London, Paris, New York, San Francisco. You could have the Michigan program, for example, organize an all-day Friday livestreaming of the CNS scientific program but with networking locally, on-site in Ann Arbor (site of the first CNS meeting), culiminating in a Friday night reception beaming back and forth between Boston, Ann Arbor, maybe Nashville (2nd CNS Meeting), Austin (2013 meeting), San Francisco (1994), others…

Interesting. So, it sounds like there will be a full live program in Boston no matter how many or how few people can actually be there in-person?

Yup. With a few modifications here and there, although some things will be pretty much the same. All the awards lectures, for example – Sachs, Dodge Young Investigator, Hower – will be given on their traditional day and time. And this year we added another award lecture: the first Martha Bridge Denckla Award Lecture, scheduled on Thursday afternoon. The list, with photos, is posted on page 33. I should pause here to mention that this year’s Boston Marathon will be held in October rather than April, nine days after the CNS leaves town. I should further mention that 1972, the year the CNS held its first meeting, is also the first year the the Boston Marathon added a separate women’s division. And finally, I cannot help mentioning that two of this year’s awardees – Mary Zupanc (Gold Humanism in Medicine Award) and Liz Berry-Kravis (Martha Bridge-Denckla Lecturer) – are seasoned marathoners and running buddies who have logged a few miles at past CNS Annual Meetings.

Cool. How about the rest of the program. Will there be symposia?

Seven of them. Carl Stafstrom, the Scientific Program Chair, and Yasmin Khakoo, the Associate Chair, combed through a lot of great proposals with great feedback from their committee and drew up a program with seven 2.25-3 hour symposia scheduled on specific days and times. Those are solid. After that, the time and day commitments softened a little, meaning we’ll have to wait until we see early/mid-summer how things change or don’t change with the Convention Center and how that affects choreographing time and space for smaller, shorter seminars.

When you say “seminars,” are you referring to Breakfast Seminars?

Yes and No. The seminars are what in all other years we schedule live as three parallel Breakfast Seminars on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But in a hybrid setting, there won’t be any “Breakfast Seminars,” per se. Think about it: a Breakfast Seminar that starts at 7:00 am in Boston means someone in San Francisco who wants to attend live needs to boot up and be caffienated at 4:00 am. How fun is that?


“Not” is right. So, we’re moving what used to be
“Breakfast Seminars” to later in the day. It’s just too soon right now to say when and where they will be offerred live and livestreamed out. And remember: all of these sessions, and all the Awards Lectures and Symposia, will be recorded and offered On Demand during and after the annual meeting. Nobody registering for the annual meeting –
live or virtually – is going to miss out on any content. What they might miss out on is the dynamic Q&A discussions zoomed after the lectures which, as we saw last fall, is the real surprise bonus of virtual meetings: typing in a question in the chat box is much more democratic and much less intimidating than stepping up to the microphone in a big ballrom to ask a question of someone 20 years your senior. And with the moderator able to select and edit questions and comments from the chatbox, then present them in focused, thematic order consistent with the flow of discussion…what’s not to like?

OK, so no Breakfast Seminars. What are people gathered in Boston going to do with their early morning?

The non-runners not elbowing their way along or across the Charles, you mean? We’re going to try something new this year. It’s still in the early planning stages and we would welcome ideas, but right now what we’ve got is this: each morning there will be one or two on-stage “CNS Conversations” with one senior/emeritus-level member (an icon of sorts), one mid-career member, and one early-career member engaged in 45-minute free-flowing conversation about child neurology past, present and future. They will take up questions like: “What’s different about training now as compared with 20 years ago, 40 years ago? What’s the same, what never changes? Who were the decisive mentors, what were the decisive papers, meetings, “life” events, etc shaping one’s career, life, calling?”

Sounds great. Perfect for a milestone meeting looking at the Society’s past, present and future.” It kind of resonates with the Legacy Receptions you used to have immediately following the Welcome Reception on Wednesday night. Are you still having that?

Oh, yeah! Bigger and better than ever. We’re doing three things with it:

1. We’re changing it to a luncheon, scheduling it mid-day Wednesday, when everyone is more awake and engaged 

2. We’re renaming it in honor of Ken Swaiman, in recognition of his central, defining role in creating the CNS, PCN and CNF, all of which shaped and were shaped by those individuals receiving the career/legacy awards at the luncheon: the Roger & Mary Brumback Lifetime Achievement Awards, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award, and the PCN/CNS Training Director Award 

3. We’re inviting all past award recipients and past elected officers to come to the luncheon, stand and take a bow when their name is read off, so that all the members gathered can show their appreciation with a long, loud, well-deserved standing ovation.

Is that when the “Founders” book Steve Ashwal put together will be available, followed by signing opportunities, etc with either the founders themselves or the author(s) writing their profile?

Possibly. Probably. There will be many opportunities throughout the meeting. That’s all still to be determined, however. But that’s very much a part of the mix for this very special meeting.

Posters? PCN? Exhibits? Industry-sponsored CME sessions? Committee & SIG Meetings? I’ve got lots left to ask.

All good questions or topics. All important. All very much up in the air right now. Probably will be well into the spring or summer. Perhaps we can have a follow-up Q&A in the Spring/Summer CNS Connections to tackle those.

When will on-line registration open?

Assuming everything progresses and clarifies nicely, probably early July. We hope to have actionable information available in the Spring/Summer CNS Connections due out in late June.

Will there be a sequel to Phil Pearl and David Urion’s fabulous “American Creativity, Ingenuity, and Diversity” series?

Count on it. Both live and live-streamed. Assuming, that is, Phil can find a keyboard and a few good sidemen in Boston…

Anything else people should know about the Boston meeting?

Lots. The Presidential Symposium will be an absolute blockbuster. The theme will be “CNS at 50! Past, Present and Future.” Steve Ashwal will lead off with a talk about the historical development of child neurology, followed by Phil Pearl delivering a State of the Union address. And then, for “the Future” segment, Phil has gathered a Dream Team line-up of five or six young investigators presenting their work in developmental cognitive neuroscience, movement disorders, epilepsy genetics, neuro-oncology, epilepsy and clinical neurophysiology, followed by a roundtable discussion on future directions in cerebral palsy and child neurology.

Also, Part 2 of the Child Neurology Foundation’s Diagnostic Odyssey symposium, following up on last year’s virtual symposium, looks so good and so strong that we are leading off with it on Wednesday morning this year, in lieu of the Neurobiology of Disease in Children (NDC) symposium that Bernie Maria will not be staging as the meeting opener for the first time in 15 years.

What happened there?

A number of things: timing, funding. It might just be a one-year hiatus, or it might be that we saw the last of this iconic program last year with the TBI symposium. We’re looking at possible new special programming for “the next 50 years,” very much with the general, clinically oriented child neurologists in mind. One possibility might come out of the pilot clinical investigator “boot camp” scheduled for Saturday afternoon at this year’s meeting. It’s being planned by the CNS Research Committee in tandem with the NIH and CNF. I would encourage everyone to look at the highlighted survey solicitation on page 34, click the link and spend a few minutes helping to shape the next few decades, really, with new programming like this that all CNS members and their patients will ultimately benefit from.

Final question: What happens with finding hotel rooms and getting restaurant reservations in Boston if the Red Sox make the playoffs?

Seriously? I guess my response would be this: we’re celebrating the Past this fall, not living in it. The only live baseball anyone in Boston might see would involve Barry Kosofsky re-enacting Bill Buckner’s epic Game 6 error in the 1986 World Series, in honor, fittingly, of the last and only other time the CNS met in Boston. 

OK, then. Thanks for the info. Looking forward to more updates via “eConnections” this spring and summer and looking forward to seeing you in Boston.