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Autism experts, authors to convene at two-day Savannah event

Savannah Morning News - 2/25/2019

Feb. 25--The Matthew Reardon Center's annual Autism Conference is geared toward family members, caregivers, teachers and others who support people with autism.

Daniel Wendler, author of "Improve Your Social Skills" and "Level Up Your Social Life," will kick off the conference at 8 a.m.Feb. 28 at the Savannah Convention Center. It continues March 1, when author Temple Grandin will present the keynote address and Rep. Ron Stephens will be presented with the Marie Backus McGaughey Award. Scholarships for educators are available on a case by case basis.

"Our goal is everybody who comes will be better prepared for the impact autism has in their life," said Patti Victor, president and CEO of the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism, which provides advocacy and outreach and operates an accredited day school for 30 students with autism.

Five tracks of programming and seven sessions will be presented during the two-day conference.

"People will make room for you if you have social skills. What [autism] comes across as is bad behavior. That's the symptom. In the workplace, it's not tolerated," Victor said. At the reverse job fair, job seekers with autism will be stationed at tables with their resumes and posters on display for employers.

An educator's track at the conference will provide teachers and administrators with information on teaching strategies for students with autism that will provide independence. The conference also will present information for parents of children with differences about Individual Education Programs and resources available, from sensory strategies to music therapy.

Many of the conference speakers have autism themselves, but weren't diagnosed until they were adults, Victor said. "A lot of our speakers really struggled as children," she said. Children with autism often are the ones who don't go along with the herd and are left out, she added.

Today, many children with autism aren't diagnosed for years. They might be struggling to fit in at school, but aren't receiving services, said Faye Montgomery, advocacy director at the Matthew Reardon Center. "A lot of what we do is IEPs and navigating the system," she said.

Erin Roma, advocacy assistant at the Matthew Reardon Center, said many people don't understand autism involves a marked difference in a person's communication, social and behavioral skills. People on the autism spectrum can have extreme strengths or weaknesses.

It has a neurological basis, Victor said. Children must be diagnosed with autism to receive services for it.

Girls have been less likely to be diagnosed with autism than boys, and Montgomery said it's likely because they often are considered shy or "girly" instead of having a behavioral issue. "Many have learned at a young age to camouflage their symptoms," she said.

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(c)2019 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)

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