Second BYU Autism Conference to Focus on Adolescence

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The changes and adjustments of adolescence are rarely easy. But for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families, change is even harder.

Best Practices in Autism: Autism in Adolescence, a one-day workshop to be held at the BYU Conference Center on January 30, 2015, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., will emphasize ways to cope with autism during adolescence.

Presenters are from BYU, Utah State University, the University of Utah, and Utah Valley University as well as from private practices serving individuals and families impacted by ASD. Sponsors include BYU, BYU’s David O. McKay School of Education, Timpanogos Regional Hospital and BYU Continuing Education.

As youth transition into adolescence, their world becomes increasingly more social, which is particularly difficult for those with autism, said Terisa Gabrielsen, the workshop organizer. Gabrielsen’s research on autism detection was recently published in the journal Pediatrics.

“They are left out because they do not have the social skills,” Gabrielsen said. “It hurts. A myth exists that people with autism don’t care about friends. Many people with autism, especially adolescents, really suffer from social isolation. Depression and suicidal thoughts are alarmingly common because of it.”

According to Gabrielsen, an individual is typically diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder in early childhood. The family uses resources available to them, including child services, to help their child develop appropriate routines with schooling and home life; however, routines and expectations are disrupted with the onset of adolescence.

“At adolescence everything starts all over,” Gabrielsen said. “There are dramatic changes in the social environment as well as dramatic changes in biology, all of which make adolescence much more difficult for someone with an autism spectrum disorder.”

A new feature of this second autism workshop will be a working lunch with social skills experts. Each lunch table will include a social skills professional who will invite attendees to ask questions, share experiences, and seek advice.

Attendees of the last workshop requested another panel discussion featuring individuals with autism and their family members. The panel will discuss their strategies for surviving adolescence and transition to adulthood.

Registration for the conference is available online, by phone (877-221-6716), or in person at BYU’s Harman Continuing Education Building. For more information, visit http://ce.byu.edu/cw/autism/.

Contact: Cynthia Glad 801-422-1922

Writer: Lindsey Williams