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Registration Opens for Third BYU Autism Conference

Best Practices in Autism

The third BYU autism conference will be held on January 29, 2016.

Registration is now open for the third BYU autism conference, Best Practices in Autism: What’s New in Autism Intervention Research? The conference will be held on January 29, 2016.

Archived versions of the first two autism conferences are also available for viewing. Those who would like to view them can visit and view them for a $25 registration fee.

The second BYU autism conference, Best Practices in Autism: Autism in Adolescence, highlighted research on ways to help adolescents with autism. Nearly 200 people attended the event. Partners included BYU, BYU’s David O. McKay School of Education, Timpanogos Regional Hospital, and BYU Continuing Education.

The conference featured nine presenters and six panelists, as well as 19 social skills experts who presented information during a working lunch.

“Transition Process in Education” (Ryan Kellems, PhD, BYU)

Entering adolescence brings a transition process in an individual’s education. Ryan Kellems of the McKay School Department of Counseling Psychology and Special Education presented ways to smooth the transition for those with autism.

Special needs programs in the education system help students with autism spectrum disorders to achieve success. The students eventually become ineligible for these programs as they graduate from high school, drop out, or reach the age limit for special needs education (age 22 in Utah).

At age 16, a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) should include transition services, which can include postsecondary education goals, vocational goals, and other goals for the future. Kellems suggested starting this process early.

“I actually recommend beginning a formal transition process at age 14,” Kellems said. “[Students] may not know what they want to do in life, but they can start thinking about what they want to do.”

“Postsecondary Education Supports and Programs” (Jon Cox, PhD, BYU; Laurie Bowen, UVU; and Tyra Sellers, USU)

Many universities have resources to help those with autism spectrum disorders. Jon Cox, Laurie Bowen, and Tyra Sellers shared information about postsecondary support and programs at BYU, UVU, and USU. Each of these universities has programs to help students with autism make the transition to college life.

Cox highlighted the different housing options available at BYU for freshmen, the new-student orientation groups, the Office of First-Year Experience, and an autism support group with fellow students facing similar challenges.

Bowen presented information about the new Utah Valley University Passages program, which began last April, providing students who have autism spectrum disorders with opportunities to reach their full college potential. Aggies Elevated, offered by Utah State University, helps students with intellectual disabilities to develop independence in academics, vocational pursuits, and personal growth.

“Legal Issues—Guardianship and Law Enforcement” (Lisa Thornton, JD, BYU; and Roger Broomé, PhD, BYU)

Autism Conference

Lisa Thornton, JD, presented about guardianship issues for parents of children with autism.

At age 18, children become legal adults. This presents a challenge for parents who have a son or daughter who is adult age but may be a child in some aspects of development. Attorney Lisa Thornton presented information on guardianship and other legal issues for those with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Thornton has a daughter, Kate (age 11), who has Prader-Willi syndrome.

“I want Kate to fly as high as she wants,” Thornton said. “I want my daughter to live her life to the fullest, but I also want a safety net in case she falls.”

Thornton explained the guardianship process for those with autism spectrum disorders and recommended starting this process three to four months prior to the individual’s 18th birthday.

Roger Broomé’s presentation focused on law enforcement and autism. He explained how police officers make decisions to use force and explained that whenever there is a veto factor or a reason to withhold force, they will not use force. He emphasized teaching those with autism to use expressions of compliance or surrender such as saying, “Okay! Okay! Okay!” “Don’t shoot!” or “I’m scared.” These create veto factors for police officers. It is also important to show hands, face the officer, and stand still.

“Executive Function Deficits and Interventions for ASD” (Jennifer Cardinal, PhD, Neurobehavioral Center for Growth)

Jennifer Cardinal presented findings about executive functioning (EF) abilities in adolescents with autism. Cardinal defined EF as the “higher processes that govern goal-directed action and adaptive responses to novel or complex situations.” In basic terms, EF refers to a person’s ability to organize, plan, pay attention, and inhibit incorrect responses to social situations.

Cardinal said the external environment as well as factors affecting each individual are significant in shaping EF abilities. To help young people with autism improve their EF capabilities, Cardinal recommends that parents and teachers experiment with different types of communication and evaluate the learning environment to see if changes could be made to better accommodate students with autism.

“Autism and Adolescence” (Deborah Bilder, MD, University of Utah)

Teens with autism have unique struggles as they pass through puberty. Deborah Bilder offered some suggestions for ways parents and medical professionals can help them cope. Autism can impair cortisol regulation in the brain, which means that teens with autism may experience higher levels of arousal. Bilder said teens with autism often express their sexuality in inappropriate ways or at inappropriate times.

Bilder gave guidelines for helping teens avoid these behaviors and tips for teaching teens with autism how to be confident and safe in romantic relationships. She said it’s important to communicate with them, help them to understand what a healthy relationship looks like, and avoid shaming inappropriate behaviors. Bilder finished her presentation by offering suggestions for medications to help regulate hormones in teens with autism.

Panel Discussion with Terisa Gabrielsen, PhD, BYU, as Moderator

The conference ended with a panel discussion moderated by the event organizer, Terisa Gabrielsen, who is a faculty member of the McKay School Counseling Psychology and Special Education Department. The panelists answered questions from the audience according to their own personal experiences.

Resources from the conference are available through the McKay School’s Autism Connect website.

Writers: Shazia Chiu and Lindsey Williams

Contact: Cynthia Glad (801) 422-1922