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March 31, 2011

CONTACT: K.E. Schwab




SRU Autism Awareness Conference draws record crowd


SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. – Slippery Rock University’s College of Education Second Annual Autism Awareness Conference April 6 is a sellout. A weeklong series of events, to increase awareness and understanding of autism, surrounds the conference.

           “More than 650 registrations have already been received. We would have had even more participants, but the size of our conference room is limited,” said Kathleen Strickland, interim dean of the college and chair of the conference.

           Autism is a developmental disorder that usually appears in the first three years of life and affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills.

           Rebecca Klaw, a nationally recognized expert in autism, and a panel of six young people with autism will the deliver the conference’s keynote addresses. The daylong event includes 27 breakout sessions.

           SRU’s University Union is the primary site for the conference, which opens at 7:30 a.m., although some sessions are scheduled in nearby academic buildings.

           “In addition to professionals in the field, we are seeing more and more interest in autism from students involved in a host of majors,” Strickland said. “In addition to education and special education majors, we are seeing students registering who are majoring in counseling, adapted physical activity, exercise and rehabilitative sciences, music therapy and other related fields.”

           SRU will use the conference as part of a week of activities designed to increase autism awareness. Beginning April 1, the college will place blue lights around campus and in the community as part of the national awareness campaign for Autism Awareness Month. The HBO film “Temple Grandin,” about a woman with autism, will be shown at 7:45 p.m., April 4, in the Advanced Technology and Science Hall. The HBO film  “Autism – The Musical” will be shown at 7:45 p.m., April 7, in Vincent Science Hall.

           SRU students will distribute literature and facts about autism on the Quad at 12:30 p.m., April 5., and the University will observe “Blue and White Day” April 8 by wearing blue and white clothes to demonstrate autism awareness. 

“One in 110 individuals is diagnosed with autism,” Strickland said, “which makes it imperative that the public, especially those in professions such as education, medicine, therapy and those who provide recreational and community services, understand what autism is and how to support those on the autism spectrum.”

“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,” she said.

“We are fortunate to have 54 presenters at the conference who will address topics such as communication, social skills, learning at home and in school, visual supports and family involvement. We will also welcome 21 exhibitors who will display and explain their services and products,” she said.

“The overall purpose of this conference is to share ideas and expertise,” Strickland said.

Klaw’s 8:45 a.m. keynote address is titled Square Pegs in Round Holes - Living with Autism in a Social World.”

Since 1988, she has worked a consultant, trainer and advocate for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families. Klaw received an A.B. from Vassar College and her master of education degree in elementary education and her doctorate in child development from the University of Pittsburgh.

She has had training in floortime, relationship development intervention, visual strategies, social stories and cognitive behavioral therapy. She has also attended numerous national and international conferences on autism to stay current with the newest research and methodologies.

She routinely travels the country to provide supervision and/or case consultation to mental health therapists who are treating an increasing number of children and adults on the autism spectrum, provides individual consultation and regular group consultations. She has trained consultants, direct care staff and teachers on methods and techniques used to drive developmental growth in children with ASD. She consults with parents about issues effecting home and school success and provides training, case review and consultation for the staff and administration of Glade Run Lutheran Services in Zelienople and for the staff of New Horizon School in Beaver.

She has produced two training DVDs, one on relationship-based intervention with young children with autism and the other on responding to agitation, escalation and meltdowns. She has also published a book describing how to write goals and collect data using a developmental approach with young children with ASD. With a colleague, she has developed tools for teaching social skills for children and teens with high functioning autism and Aspergers.

Klaw is a certified in supported employment for individuals with developmental disabilities through Virginia Commonwealth University and was the recipient of the inaugural Grandin Award presented by the Advisory Board on Autism and Related Disorders Inc. for "maximizing the potential and possibilities of children with autism.”

Following the conferences 27 breakout sessions, participants will reassemble at 2:15 p.m. for “A Personal View of Autism/Aspergers: A Panel Discussion” led by six young people affected by autism

The panelists, all participants in the Zelienople-based Parents in Toto organization, are:

    • Elliot Blackburn, a recent graduate of Avonworth High School who is attending Community College of Allegheny College;
    • Anthony Bucci, a senior at Seneca Valley High School, who as part of his senior project chose to mentor a third-grader who is on the autism spectrum;
    • Adrienne Geist, who after high school graduation attended technical school and has worked at Bamar Farm and Kennel in Zelienople for seven years;
    • Andy Limbacher, 2008 graduate of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School and recently of Pittsburgh Technical Institute in CAD. He plans to attend Robert Morris University in the fall to study mechanical engineering;
    • Kevin Limbacher, a graduate of North Allegheny High School now employed by Giant Eagle; and
    • Valerie McMahon, who was homeschooled and now works at Cranberry Wendy’s and Z Town in Zelienople. 

Breakout sessions include:

“Adapted Games for Promotion of Social Interaction and Leisure Skills;” “Using Visual Supports for Children with Autism: What Works and Why;” PREP and ACCLAIM: Early Planning for Lasting Success in College;” “Education Law;” “Surrounding Yourself with Support to Empower Your Family;” “Office/Home Intervention with a Young Adult Man with ASD;”  “Transitioning Together: Pre-Employment Program at SRU’s Storm Harbor Equestrian Center;” and “What I Want You to Know.”

 An Autism Walk, sponsored by the SRU Council for Exceptional Children, will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., April 9, starting at Morrow Field House.


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.