SRU conference aims to help public understand the autism spectrum


graphic of a heart made of puzzle pieces with one piece not in place yet

April 2, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — In recognition of Autism Awareness Month, Slippery Rock University will host an Autism Conference at 8 a.m., April 10 in the Smith Student Center Ballroom. The conference, a biennial event hosted by SRU's colleges of Health, Environment and Science, Education and Liberal Arts, will consist of the presentation of the Strickland Autism Advocate Awards, a keynote address, a panel discussion and guest speakers.

The theme for this year's conference is "Understanding the Autism Spectrum: Emerging Needs and Future Directions" and will include presentations from Brian Danielson, director of SRU's Center for Teaching and Learning; Madison Merhaut, a 2015 and 2017 SRU graduate; and Ryan Campbell, who is enrolled in SRU's Transition Achievement Program. TAP provides job training, physical activity, health and life-skills training that prepare high school students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities for independent living.

"This conference is an interdisciplinary sharing of the need to understand autism," said Betsy Kemeny, assistant professor of recreational therapy and conference committee co-chair. "We don't have it all figured out because everything is always changing, but we want to keep everyone as up-to-date as possible."

Kemeny and Kathleen Strickland, professor emeritus and former dean of the COE, will present the Strickland Autism Advocate Scholarship to three SRU students. The scholarship - made possible by Kathleen Strickland, an SRU professor emeritus and former dean of the COE, and James Strickland, an SRU professor of English - is presented to "deserving students who have completed significant work with or in support of people on the autism spectrum."

Jessica Dirsmith, psychologist and director of educational consulting for PREVAIL Educational Solutions, LLC, and Rebecca Heaton Hall, Esq., director of legal services for PREVAIL, will present the keynote address at 8:30 a.m. The keynote will focus on instilling a positive approach to working with people on the autism spectrum and focusing on what they can do rather than what they cannot.

Kemeny said the conference, which is free and open to all students, is expecting upwards of 400 attendees.

"More than one in 59 people have been diagnosed with autism, so no matter what field you may work in in the future, you'll likely be working with someone you can apply this information to," Kemeny said. "I hope this conference ignites a desire for lifelong learning and keeping up to date about working with people with autism."

Students can register for the conference on CORE until April 5. For more information about the conference, contact Kemeny at

MEDIA CONTACT: Megan Bush | 724.738.2091 |