Autism conference focuses on the rising disorder 


by Jared Rutecki

Ask someone on the street and the mention of autism might bring to mind Dustin Hoffman’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 film “Rain Man.” Statistics portray, however, a real world in which encounters with autism are far more frequent than its appearance on the big screen, a reality to be echoed and addressed in the “Focus on Autism: Applied Behavior Analysis and Social Communication” conference at OU-COM.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that autism (frequently referred to as autism spectrum disorders) — a complex developmental disability that causes severe and pervasive impairments in thinking, feeling, language and the ability to relate to others — affects one in 250 children. All together, 1.5 million people may have autism, making this conference important for doctors, nurses, therapists and educators. Through treatment, people with autism can lessen the severity of symptoms and lead productive lives.

“Autism is exploding in the population,” says Pam Reese, clinical supervisor of Ohio University Therapy Associates. “I don’t think there is a professional who hasn’t had a child with autism as part of their caseload.”

“We are not sure whether the increase in diagnoses are due to more cases of autism, or better methods of screening,” says Ellen Peterson, Area Health Education Center continuing education coordinator at OU-COM. “We only know that it is a major concern to the many people who regularly encounter children with autism.”

This conference features presentations by Reese and Leslie Sinclair, program director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism.  

Sinclair is nationally known for her achievements and service to individuals with autism. She is currently chairperson for the Ohio Autism Consortium for Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Autism. The National Association of Private Schools honored her as Exceptional Children’s Educator of the Year. She will discuss the basic foundations of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in her presentation, “Understanding Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism: From Infancy to Adulthood.” ABA utilizes the principles of behavioral science to affect human behavior.

Reese will focus on the use of joint attention — shared eye contact and pointing initiated — activities and visually cued instruction to foster language and comprehension in autistic children in her presentation, “Social Communication and Social Stories.” Social stories are a method of communicating proper behavior to children with disabilities such as autism. Social stories instruct by talking to children about behavioral concepts from the child’s perspective.

“Social stories can be written to share information, teach about appropriate behavior or can be used to congratulate a child for doing something right,” Reese says.

“Both Leslie Sinclair and Pam Reese are speech language pathologists,” Peterson says. “These professionals help us communicate with autistic people, and they help autistic people communicate with us.”

The conference takes place Friday, Nov. 3, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Ohio University Human Resource and Training Center. Pre-registration is required, but the informative conference is free of charge. Those attending the conference also are eligible to earn continuing education credit in a number of fields. For more information, call the Area Health Education Center at (740) 593-2292, or e-mail

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Last updated: 03/27/2008