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March 29, 2013
CONTACT: K.E. Schwab

SRU hosts Autism Awareness Conference

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -More than 600 people interested in autism will participate in a daylong Autism Awareness Conference hosted by Slippery Rock University April 3, in the Smith Student Center. Two-dozen vendors offering services used by those on the autism spectrum and their families will display their products.

Maureen Ziegler, a Slippery Rock University graduate and an elementary, middle school and high school teacher with extensive experience working with students with autism, will deliver the keynote address to open the bi-annual conference.

ZIEGLERHer presentation will focus on a new way of thinking about behaviors associated with autism spectrum disorder, considered vital for staff at all levels who are working with students with autism.

Zach Sechrist, a 2000 SRU special education and elementary education graduate diagnosed as having high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome, will also speak.

"Today, one individual in 50 is diagnosed with autism, which makes it imperative that the public, especially those in professions such as education, medicine and therapy, as well as those who provide recreational and community services, understand what autism is and how to support those on the autism spectrum," said Kathleen Strickland, conference organizer and professor emeritus of education.

"There is no way to prevent autism; no fully effective treatments; and no cure. However, early diagnosis and intervention, as well as, appropriate support can result in significant improvement for many on the spectrum," Strickland said.

A pre-opening will include a "Light It Up Blue" event to celebrate autism awareness month at 6:30 p.m., April 2, on SRU's Quad. The event will offer food and music, followed by speakers and an 8 p.m. luminary ceremony.

The purpose behind the conference is to share ideas and expertise.

"This is the third conference SRU has hosted. We have been able to pass along some very important information to those involved in teaching and working with those on the autism spectrum," she said. "Our breakout sessions will be presented by area experts and educators addressing social skills, behavior, parent perspective and transition programs. We hope those attending will gain new insights and share the information with others as well as support those who are on the autism spectrum."

Ziegler, a nationally recognized speaker, works as an educator and intervention specialist at the Autism Education Center at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Prior to her current position, she taught in public schools, working with students on the autism spectrum. She developed program models at all three levels, including development of the LINKS program, which incorporates applied learning in a nontraditional manner. The program provides multiple learning outcomes for both students with ASD and students enrolled in the elective course at the university.

Through the Michigan State Autism Resources and Training Program, she developed training strategies for K-12 educators.

Zeigler encourages everyone "to look at autism differently," respecting the characteristics of ASD manifested by students and using their intense interests and needs to their advantage.

Ziegler has a bachelor's and master's degree in special education, with an emphasis in social restoration and an educational specialist degree from Eastern Michigan University.

Sechrist, the afternoon keynote speaker, was actively involved as a student in the student chapter of the Council for Exceptional Children and the Pennsylvania State Education Association. Following graduation, he accepted a position teaching third grade in the Las Vegas school system before returning to Pennsylvania, where he was diagnosed as having high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome.

Since 2003, he has immersed himself in a broad study of autism, including the completion of a master's degree in autism spectrum disorders at the University of Kansas.

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.