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TC to Host Autism Conference

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Linda Hickson

Linda Hickson, Professor of Education and Director of the Center for Opportunities and Outcomes for People with Disabilities.

Autism research has expanded in recent years across disciplines, including mind and body science to education and social work, but rarely have professionals shared information outside of their areas of expertise. An annual conference on autism at Teachers College, taking place this year on April 17 and 18, provides an opportunity for brain and behavioral scientists to talk to educators and psychologists and take an interdisciplinary approach to searching for causes, diagnostic guidelines and treatment protocols.

The third annual “Mind and Body in Autism” conference, sponsored by The Center for Opportunities and Outcomes for People with Disabilities and the Leonard and Frances Blackman Lecture Series at Teachers College, will take place from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on both days, at Teachers College, 525 W. 120th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam, in New York City.

“The research findings are exploding, both in terms of early identification and people looking really closely at the effectiveness of interventions,” said Linda Hickson, Professor of Education and Director of the Center for Opportunities and Outcomes for People with Disabilities. “We have invited some of the best people in the field who have done cutting-edge research on autism, also people representing a wide range of disciplinary perspectives.”

Brain and medical scientists, including researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center, and educators, such as Hickson, are especially interested in collaborating, she added. “All of the sudden, they’re really interested in what we have to say about how children learn, and we’re really interested in what they have to say about how the brain affects the learning of people with autism.”

According to the American Autism Society, autism is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It affects individuals differently, some more severely than others, making it difficult to diagnose and treat. But awareness of autism has grown in recent years. The American Autism Society reports that about 1.5 million Americans, and one in 150 American children, have some symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

In recent years, some lay people and even some medical professionals have disagreed sharply about whether autism could be caused by the routine administration of vaccines. Among the short breakout sessions will be a conference call with author Temple Grandin, an animal scientist who has written about her personal experience with autism;.and a follow-up interview with Louis Z. Cooper, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons discussing the ongoing discussions around vaccines and autism.

Also at the conference, Wendy Stone, the 2009 Blackman Lecturer, will talk about issues and strategies related to early diagnosis of autism. Stone is director of the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders and professor of pediatrics and psychology at Vanderbilt University.

The Blackman Lecture is named for Leonard Blackman, Professor Emeritus of Education and Psychology at Teachers College. Blackman has studied how children with developmental delays learn. He has also investigated psychological factors and strategies, vocational issues and ethical concerns, such as whether the death penalty should ever be allowed for people with mental or developmental deficits.

Raymond Romanczyk, Director of the Institute for Child Development and Professor of Clinical Psychology at Binghamton University, the State University of New York, will discuss the divide between opinion and evidence in the current treatment practices.

There will be breakout discussions that include the following topics:

  • inducing and expanding early verbal development, moderated by Jessica Singer-Dudek, a lecturer in the Department of Health and Behavioral Studies at Teachers College;
  • families of children with autism and other developmental disabilities in the People’s Republic of China, moderated by Peishi Wang, assistant professor at Queens College, City University of New York;
  • using filmmaking to enhance the quality of life for adults with disabilities, presented by Heather Gazzaley, project director of adult day services,  Association for the Help of Retarded Children (AHRC);
  • dance for persons with autism, by Andrew Palermo, creator and founder of the New York City-based dre.dance company.

The conference is open to the public for a $100 admission fee, and academic credit and continuing education credits are available at additional fees. To register, go to www.tc.edu/ceoi/autism.

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