Thousands find connection and inspiration at nation's largest autism conference

Autism affects an estimated 1 in 250 births, making the condition more common than childhood cancer, cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis combined. Family members of those living with autism are looking for emotional support. Researchers, doctors, and teachers are on a never-ending quest for answers to the latest rumors, to information on the latest finding to emotional support.

When Penn State held its first autism conference in 1998, about 100 people were expected to attend. To the great surprise of the event's planners, 300 showed up, forcing staff to scramble and find housing for the overflow in the University's empty dorm rooms. Today, the conference is one of the largest meetings of its kind-not just in the nation, but globally, attracting a diverse audience, including medical professionals as well as those suffering from autism and their family members. This summer, from July 31 through August 4, the 2006 National Autism Conference is expected to draw more than 2,400 people to Penn State's University Park campus.

Public awareness of autism has grown dramatically in recent years, as diagnoses have increased at what some medical professionals call epidemic levels. In addition, a recent flurry of stories in the media has helped make autism a focus of national consciousness. As a result, more professionals than ever before are seeking the latest information about the condition. Titled "Progress Through Partnership," this year's conference will focus on current topics in the field, including cross-agency support and the needs of adolescents and adults living with autism.

According to Cathy Scutta, an educational consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN), and lead sponsor of the event, the conference showcases comprehensive, evidence-based information, providing a venue for educators and families to develop effective educational programming for those with autism spectrum disorders. Close to 90 speakers, including many internationally respected leaders, will present at the conference, sharing the latest research and about autism and related issues. Speakers include renowned medical professionals, teachers, behavior analysts and parents of autistic children.

Scott Robertson, a Penn State Ph.D. student in Information Technology Sciences living with Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, will deliver the keynote address, "Adult Living with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Challenges, Aspirations, and Success."

After finding last year's conference to be an effective forum for discussion and increased understanding, Robertson is excited to have a role this year's conference. "I greatly enjoy having the opportunity to share my thoughts and beliefs with people in the audience and hear about their own experiences and perspectives on adult living and autism," he said.

Many family members of autistic individuals will also be in attendance. To help them get the most out of the experience, the Penn Stater Conference Center and Hotel provides free daycare during the conference, through its Children's Institute, for the first 100 children to be registered.


Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare will take an active role in this year's event, in partnership with the state's Department of Education, PaTTAN, Penn State Outreach's Conferences and Institutes and the College of Education. Running concurrently with the 2006 National Autism Conference, Penn State's Low Incidence Institutes will also be held the Penn Stater. These four mini-conferences focus on topics related to serving children who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, blind or visually impaired.

More information about the 2006 National Autism Conference is available at

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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