WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Autism conference offers answers

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By Rachel Luchmun

The college, partnered with the Kansas Center for Autism Research & Training (K-CART) at the University of Kansas, is putting on a conference about autism on Oct. 7-8.

Autism is more common than childhood cancer, juvenile diabetes and pediatric AIDS combined, with an estimated one in every 110 children diagnosed. In the United States alone, an estimated 1.5 million individuals are affected by autism.

Entitled “Beyond the Diagnosis: Autism Across The Life Span,” the conference aims at helping a variety of people who are affected by autism.

“The conference is geared towards parents, people suffering from autism, mental health professionals,” said Mary Jean Billingsley, program director, Learner Engagement Division.

Six major themes will be covered over the two day conference: behavioral supports/social skills, early childhood, employment, community living, transition, and research and information.

The keynote speaker to the conference will be Eustacia Cutler, author of the book “A Thorn in my Pocket,” in which she describes her struggles to raise her autistic daughter, Temple Grandin. Grandin is a noted animal behaviorist and autism advocate whose life was featured in the HBO movie “Temple Grandin.”

“I am thrilled to have her,” Billingsley said. “We are lucky the conference worked out with her schedule.”

Cutler’s address, entitled “Yes, your child is autistic. Who is your child? Who are you?” will focus on the stumbling blocks affecting children with an autism spectrum disorder. Other addresses include “The art of job matching,” “Sexuality and Autism,” and college-based “Helping students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) succeed in the Community College Environment.”

Billingsley said there were students, faculty and staff who had been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

“It is difficult to give a number,” Billingsley said. “Autism is a hidden disability and many do not say they have it.”

Support exists for students affected by an ASD. Carla Dodge, Access Services advisor, said that the first step was for the student to submit documentation of the disability to Access Services.

“Once the documentation is reviewed, we can meet with the student each semester and help them set up their schedule,” Dodge said. “Specific accommodations are set up once they are registered.”

Academic accommodations available to students include note takers and audio books. Additionally, students may qualify for testing accommodations in order to take tests in an environment in which they are more comfortable. Specific Access Services tutoring is also available, though not guaranteed.

Moreover, a student club, the JCCC Autism Spectrum Support Club, exists to provide support for students of the college affected by an ASD. Sean Swindler, director of Community Program Development at K-CART for the University of Kansas, said the club was a good thing.

“Students come to that group to learn from one another,” Swindler said. “Students with Asperger’s make new friends, and students not suffering from it learn about it.”

The Autism Spectrum Support Club offers activities both on and off campus and provides a way for students suffering from autism to talk about their concerns and engage in social activities. Registration will be available on-site at the conference.

Contact Rachel Luchmun, staff reporter, at rluchmun@jccc.edu

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