All-day autism awareness conference held in Student Center

Published by adviser, Author: Alyssa Cirincione - Rocket Contributor, Date: April 4, 2013
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April is the month for autism awareness, and to celebrate Slippery Rock University hosted the third biannual Autism Awareness Conference in the Robert Smith Student Center ballroom Wednesday evening.

So, what is autism awareness? What can people take away from these conferences that are held every two years? Former Dean of Education Dr. Kathleen Strickland explained the significance of the conference and why it’s so important.

“When we started this conference in 2009, 1 in 110 children were diagnosed with autism,” Strickland said. “In 2011, it was about 1 in 88 children that were diagnosed. Now, it’s 1 in 50. So you can see that autism is an ever-changing topic and the need for understanding autism is essential.”

Strickland said that before SRU started hosting the conference, research on autism wasn’t being ignored. It was still discussed among education professors and students, until the education department decided it was time to bring their discussions to the public.

“When we opened up the conference to the public in 2009, there was an excellent response because Butler County is a little bit removed from where most service agencies are for people on the autism spectrum,” Strickland said. “Teachers, guidance counselors, people that work for service agencies, and parents were all interested in coming to the conference and to be involved.”

Dr. Richael Barger-Anderson, associate professor of special education, also explained why SRU started the open conference of autism awareness.

“It puts us on the map for being a resource, and it brings such attention with autism on a national scale,” Anderson said. “It just helps with our message of we need to be aware, we need to do more, and to be more understanding.”

Even though Anderson said the conference doesn’t touch on the causes of autism, there are more important things to learn, such as being supportive and understanding.

“We don’t know what causes it, and there’s so many unanswered questions that people do have,” Anderson stressed. “At least we can be a place where people can go even if it’s not for actual answers, but for support.”

Because the autism conference has gained so much support and positive feedback, there have been times where SRU didn’t have enough room to fit everyone who wanted to come.

“We’ve had to turn people away in the past,” Anderson explained. “It’s like 700 people at our conferences and it’s just amazing to be seen as the place where people go for that resource

By Alyssa Cirincione

Rocket Contributor

April is the month for autism awareness, and to celebrate Slippery Rock University hosted the third biannual Autism Awareness Conference in the Robert Smith Student Center ballroom Wednesday evening.

So, what is autism awareness? What can people take away from these conferences that are held every two years? Former Dean of Education Dr. Kathleen Strickland explained the significance of the conference and why it’s so important.

“When we started this conference in 2009, 1 in 110 children were diagnosed with autism,” Strickland said. “In 2011, it was about 1 in 88 children that were diagnosed. Now, it’s 1 in 50. So you can see that autism is an ever-changing topic and the need for understanding autism is essential.”

Strickland said that before SRU started hosting the conference, research on autism wasn’t being ignored. It was still discussed among education professors and students, until the education department decided it was time to bring their discussions to the public.

“When we opened up the conference to the public in 2009, there was an excellent response because Butler County is a little bit removed from where most service agencies are for people on the autism spectrum,” Strickland said. “Teachers, guidance counselors, people that work for service agencies, and parents were all interested in coming to the conference and to be involved.”

Dr. Richael Barger-Anderson, associate professor of special education, also explained why SRU started the open conference of autism awareness.

“It puts us on the map for being a resource, and it brings such attention with autism on a national scale,” Anderson said. “It just helps with our message of we need to be aware, we need to do more, and to be more understanding.”

Even though Anderson said the conference doesn’t touch on the causes of autism, there are more important things to learn, such as being supportive and understanding.

“We don’t know what causes it, and there’s so many unanswered questions that people do have,” Anderson stressed. “At least we can be a place where people can go even if it’s not for actual answers, but for support.”

Because the autism conference has gained so much support and positive feedback, there have been times where SRU didn’t have enough room to fit everyone who wanted to come.

“We’ve had to turn people away in the past,” Anderson explained. “It’s like 700 people at our conferences and it’s just amazing to be seen as the place where people go for that resource and information.”

Before the conference this year, Dr. Strickland said that some people were unsure with whether they wanted to still call it the “Autism Awareness” conference, but she said they realized the name was very much appropriate.

“Some of us from the education department discussed whether or not to change the title of the conference for this year, because we weren’t sure if the title was right for what message we were putting out there,” Strickland said. “We then realized that there’s constantly new information and things to learn. So we felt the autism awareness title was still appropriate for the conference because we need to be aware of all the information, science and support that’s out there.”

Strickland explained how the conference usually works and what the layout and schedule of the entire day looks like.

“We have five different breakout sessions covering topics like behavior, social skills, transition, a parent perspective and executive functioning,” Strickland said. “We have 24 exhibitors who are here and they have their own tables set up, so people can stop and talk to them about services in the area, products, agencies, and even schools. It’s all about the education, awareness, and seeing what’s going on in the community that helps people with autism.”

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