Autism Conference Takes in Much More Than Docs

ST. CHARLES -- Liz Schneider, Teri Richards and Teresa Paul were among the 1,500 who attended the Autism Society of America's 40th National Conference and Exposition on Autism Spectrum Disorders.

But the three aren't doctors, therapists, behavior analysts or other health professionals.

They're mothers of children with autism.

Unlike many conferences geared entirely for professionals, the Autism Society of America conference going on this week at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles is also designed for people with autism and their loved ones.

Autism is a developmental disability that in 2007 was found in an estimated one in 150 8-year-old children, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to release new, higher numbers on those affected.

Although autism rates have skyrocketed over the last several years, the ASA has been around for more than four decades. This year marks the 40th conference.

"For people who are non-professional, it gives them a chance to hear the new information coming from the professionals," Chief Operating Officer Barbara Newhouse said. "For people who are on the spectrum, it gives them a chance to have their voices heard."

Newhouse estimated attendance is 60 percent professionals, 20 percent people somewhere on the autism spectrum and 20 percent family members.

Schneider, Richards and Paul, all of Springfield, took advantage of that mix on Wednesday, lunching with applied behavior analysts Lyndsay Ori and Sarah Steinberg, both of Chicago. The five spent lunch brainstorming ways to right the imbalance in intensive support services between the two cities.

"In Springfield, we have no professionals who are providing support in our community," Richards said.

Ori said the professionals who deal with autism must go where the jobs are. Unfortunately, that is often to the detriment of smaller communities, she said.

"There are not a lot of opportunities," Ori said.

That disparity is just one of the challenges facing autism professionals and people affected by autism. One major problem the ASA is trying to combat is a relative lack of services for adults with autism compared to the services available to children with autism, ASA media associate Carin Yavorcik said.

"At age 21, it sort of drops off," said Yavorcik, whose brother has autism. "After that, there aren't as many services."

Autism affects four times as many males as females, according to the CDC Web site. It can be detected as early as 18 months. It impairs social interaction and is found in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

"It's a whole-body, whole-life condition," Yavorcik said.

No comments:

Post a Comment