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AIM hosts nation's leading experts on autism

Monday, September 19, 2016

Three of the world’s most prominent speakers on the subject of autism will come together for the first time ever when the Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst University (AIM) hosts its inaugural Conference on Autism in Higher Education Nov. 1-2 at Erie’s Bayfront Convention Center.

The conference is an outgrowth of Mercyhurst University’s pioneering initiative in meeting the unique needs of college-age students on the autism spectrum, which began in 2008 and has become a model program in higher education.

Headlining the conference is Dr. Temple Grandin (at right, first), largely regarded as the most accomplished adult with autism in the world today. She is a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and recognized authority on livestock handling. She has authored over a dozen books. In 2010, the made-for-television biopic, “Temple Grandin,” starring Claire Danes in the title role, was met with considerable acclaim, The New York Times calling it, “a movie that is funny, instructive and also intangibly charming.”

Dr. Stephen Shore, (at right, second) also on the autism spectrum, is a professor of education at Adelphi University, whose work is devoted to helping others on the spectrum develop their capabilities to the fullest extent possible. He is the author of Beyond the Wall and College for Students with Disabilities.

Steve Silberman (at right, third) is an award-winning science writer whose book Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity documents the history of autism and suggests a model for acceptance, understanding and full participation in society for people who think differently.

With the estimate that one in every 100 college applicants is diagnosed on the autism spectrum, public awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) has increased in the past decade. AIM Director Bradley McGarry has been a high-profile advocate for this population of students, having testified recently before a U.S. Congressional committee investigating the nation’s response to the rising rate of autism.

AIM has also been featured in publications and venues across the country, including The Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes, NBC Today.com, C-SPAN and the Autism/Asperger Digest.

“Mercyhurst is honored to take the lead in bringing together notable experts in the field and to serve as a catalyst for others to meet the educational needs of this particular demographic,” McGarry said.

Another well respected authority on autism, Jane Thierfeld Brown, is paying a return visit to Mercyhurst to participate in the conference. A researcher, speaker and author on autism in higher education, Brown is co-director of College Autism Spectrum and director of student services at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She has served as a consultant to AIM program leaders at Mercyhurst for a number of years.

One track at the two-day conference will be aimed at professionals from institutions of higher education who have begun or are planning to develop programs for students on the spectrum. A parallel track will focus on the need for meaningful vocational opportunities for students with autism once they complete their college degrees.

“Adults on the autism spectrum have an unemployment rate of 85 percent across this country and that is simply unacceptable,” McGarry said. “Our goal is to flip that statistic completely around.”

A third track will feature more general programs of interest to parents, teachers and others.

Conference attendees will pay $249 for the full conference, which will include admission to the Nov. 1 evening presentation by Shore and the Nov. 2 evening presentation by Grandin. If space is available, seats for the evening presentations may be made available to the general public. Check the website for updates.

To register for the conference, visit http://www.mercyhurst.edu/academics/autism-conference. For more information, contact the AIM Office at (814) 824-3819.