Penn State conference addresses life beyond classroom for people with autism

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Twenty years ago, about 500 students in Pennsylvania received special education services under the category of autism. Today more than 27,000 do.

That exponential growth in the number of young people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders mirrors a national trend. And it has led to a growing focus on helping young people with autism make the transition to college and careers.

“The education system has to start with a real vision of employability and competence for kids,” said Peter Gerhardt, who has worked with adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorders for more than 30 years. Gerhardt will speak on “Transitioning to Employment and Life in the Community” at this year’s National Autism Conference, being held Aug. 4-7 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus.

“The goal is to be employed, to be part of the community, to be as independent as possible,” Gerhardt said. “If we don’t set that as our goal, we never achieve it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The almost 100 conference sessions include updates on autism research and programs aimed at family members, physicians, teachers, academics and anyone interested in autism spectrum disorders. One session will look at the use of mobile devices and educational apps with students with autism.

“The education system has to start with a real vision of employability and competence for kids. If we don’t set that as our goal, we never achieve it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

-- Peter Gerhardt, conference speaker

Following Gerhardt’s talk on Aug. 6, there will be an information gathering forum on “College, Career, and Community Readiness” as part of an initiative to identify where the biggest needs in transition planning are, said Mike Miklos, an educational consultant at the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN).

The number of children diagnosed with autism increased significantly in the 1990s, in part because of greater awareness and more effective diagnostic methods, Miklos said. Those children are now transitioning to adulthood.

Most educational programs focus on teaching children the skills to succeed in the classroom, but don’t address the rest of their lives beyond the classroom, Gerhardt said.

The conference is hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Bureau of Special Education; PaTTAN; and Penn State’s College of Education and Continuing Education Office.

To register for the conference, call 814-863-5100.

For more information on the National Autism Conference, visit http://autism.outreach.psu.edu.

 

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Last Updated July 30, 2014