Autism Conference

Beyond the Diagnosis

Session Highlights
Visit the Autism Conference website for session highlights.

With autism diagnoses increasing exponentially, parents, teachers and health professionals who work with children and adults with autism often have more questions than answers.

At least some of their questions will be answered again this year when “Beyond the Diagnosis: Autism Across the Lifespan” returns to Johnson County Community College for a fifth year on Friday, Nov. 30, and Saturday, Dec. 1.

The conference is co-sponsored by JCCC and the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training (K-CART) at the University of Kansas and runs from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. both days at JCCC’s Regnier Center.

Some of the top researchers in the field of autism will be on hand, leading sessions that get down to the nuts and bolts of diagnosing the disorder and then finding strategies to help people with autism succeed.

“This conference may be the only opportunity some families have to come in contact with researchers and experts in the field to ask questions one-on-one,” said Sean Swindler, director of community program development and evaluation for K-CART.

Not only that, the conference gives families the opportunity to compare notes, discover that they’re not alone in dealing with particular issues and learn what others have done to cope.

Registration is $20 for students for one or both days; $60 for individuals for one day or $90 for both days; and $140 for one day or $250 for both days for professionals with CEUs. Professionals earn 11.8 CEUs for full two-day participation.

Keynote speaker Scott Bellini will present “The Delivery of Effective Social Skills Programming to Individuals on the Autism Spectrum: Notes and Observations from the Classroom, Clinic, Laboratory … and Dinner Table” at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 30.

Bellini is the director of Social Skills Research Clinic in where, a university-based center specializing in developing and empirically examining the outcomes of social skills interventions for youth with autism spectrum disorder. He wrote “Building Social Relationships,” and is a faculty member in the school psychology program at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

Michael John Carley is the Saturday keynote speaker, addressing Asperger’s in the workplace. His address is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 1.

Carley, author of “Asperger’s From the Inside Out,” is executive director of Asperger Syndrome Training and Employment Partnership. He and his then-four-year-old son were both diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in late 2000.

He will cover diversity and inclusion strategies of major corporations, and initiatives created by ASTEP to assist companies with Asperger’s syndrome employees.

K-CART’s Swindler said adults with Asperger’s can be excellent employees with some accommodations. They excel at tasks that require keeping track of details, and they’re unfailingly honest. Building on those strengths may require accommodations like reducing noise and distractions in the workplace – which, Swindler said, can also help the employees around them be more productive and successful.

“With the accommodations, the company gains an employee they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and strengthens their business or company,” he said.

At the other end of the lifespan, Swindler said it’s now possible to diagnose autism when a child is as young as 18 months of age. Diagnosing autism earlier leads to dramatically improved outcomes for the child, he said.

About one in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism, and the growth in diagnoses makes it ever more imperative that families, schools and the health care industry work together to help the children succeed.

Once the child has been diagnosed, parents of necessity become active advocates for their child.

“It’s a hidden disability,” Swindler said. “They don’t look different, and it’s critical for parents to be active advocates or the child won’t get the treatment that’s needed.”

Research is identifying more and more ways to help people with autism succeed. But insurance doesn’t always cover such treatments and reduced state budgets for education and disabilities sometimes means that funding falls behind what research shown to be best practices.

The gap becomes particularly apparent when young adults with autism complete high school. Kansas has a five year waiting list for developmental disability waivers, meaning many of the students graduate to their living rooms, Swindler said.

Several sessions at the conference examine employment issues. Other tracks include behavioral supports and social skills, early childhood, community living, transition, and research and information.

The conference is organized into tracks so that someone interested in a particular track won’t have to choose between competing sessions in that interest area.

For more information about the conference, or to register, go to www.ksautismconference.org.