The events of Autism Awareness continue next week: Guest speakers will talk about research, behavior and treatment of autism

Posted by Elise Taverna

Skidmore College is hosting the third annual Autism Awareness Week from April 17 to 27, organized by psychology professor Rachel Mann Rosan. The proceedings consist of a string of student-run events featuring guest speakers intended to promote awareness, sensitivity and tolerance toward those with autism spectrum disorders.

Mann Rosan came up with the idea for Autism Awareness week after April was enacted as International Autism Awareness Month. Events will cover a range of topics including current genetic research into causes and treatment, as well as autism-related career opportunities. All events are free and open to the public.

"I hope that with these events, members of the Skidmore community can learn information that will help them to evaluate research and reports on autism so as to help to dispel myths and address controversies that are often reported in the media," Mann Rosan said.

The events are run and organized by students in Mann Rosan's "Developmental Disabilities and Autism" course. Students worked in six groups, each of which focused on a particular autism-related topic to promote during the week.

Topics include diagnosis and differentiation between individuals on the autism spectrum, epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders, different philosophies regarding the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, current research into causes and treatments and emerging career tracks related to working with the autism spectrum disorder population.

Each group brought a speaker to campus to talk about one of the seven Autism Awareness events. Three events took place this week, including "Do You Have What it Takes: Becoming a Direct Support Professional or a Nurse with the NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)", "Autism: A Parent's Perspective" and "People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Diversity in Your Community." Approximately 40 students attended each event.

The parent panel was a presentation and question-and-answer session with mothers of individuals on the autism spectrum who shared their experiences and the challenges of raising children with autism spectrum disorders.

Parents discussed their struggles with getting their children properly diagnosed, finding schools that provided adequate support for their children and the marital strain caused by raising children with autism spectrum disorders. Above all, the parents stressed that understanding and support are extremely important for the success of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders.

"People with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Diversity in Your Community" was a panel presentation about the organization ASPIReNY, or Autism Spectrum Peer Integration & Recreation. ASPIRe is an organization in the Capital District that helps adolescents and adults with ASD meet and participate in activities enjoyed by typical teenagers and adults, such as bus trips to New York City, shopping and horseback riding.

The panel consisted ASPIReNY founders, Deborah Garrelts and Julie Marks, and three individuals with autism spectrum disorders who are members of ASPIRe. The goal of the organization, according to the speakers, is to help individuals with autism spectrum disorders leave their comfort zones and learn to socialize in an atmosphere free from judgment.

Four more events will take place next week. "Autism: The Musical," on Monday April 23, is a documentary about five kids with autism who take part in a theatrical workshop with their parents.

"Diagnosing Autism: Current and Future Perspectives," on Tuesday April 24, is a presentation by Ronda Fein, a prominent clinical psychiatrist, about the current diagnostic criteria for, and anticipated changes to the definition and diagnosis of, autism spectrum disorders in the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual revision.

On Thursday, April 26, Paul A.H. Partridge, doctorate, will give a presentation entitled "Epidemiology of Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Brief Review of the Research Literature" discussing the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders and the factors associated with them.

Valerie Bolivar, doctorate, will discuss her research using mice in an effort to understand the underlying genes and brain structures in autism spectrum disorders in her lecture "Genetic Investigations of Neuroanatomical and Behavioral Abnormalities in BTBR T+ =TF/J Mice" on Friday, April 27.

The final event on Sunday, April 29 will be a vendor and informational fair at the intramural gym, organized by ASPIReNY, and a kid's carnival for children attending the event with their families. 

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