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April is Autism Awareness Month and also the month of Gwynedd Mercy University’s annual Autism Conference. Now in its fourteenth year, the Autism Conference, which is hosted by GMercyU’s Autism Institute, is funded by a generous grant from the Child Development Foundation (CDF) of Montgomery County.
The Conference is designed for education professionals, parents, healthcare professionals, and anyone who is interested in increasing their knowledge and skillset for working with persons on the Autism spectrum. Not only was the Conference free, attendees could also receive Continuing Education Units (CEUs) through Act 48 and PQAS.
“The literature and media have validated that the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially challenging for persons on the autism spectrum,” said Deb Schadler, PhD, CPCRT, PRSE, the Director of GMercyU’s Autism Institute and Autism Conference organizer. “The unpredictable nature and restrictions of the pandemic have challenged not only the person on the spectrum but also all of those persons coming in contact with the individual. We featured multiple sessions specifically targeted at understanding and developing strategies to address challenging behaviors in persons with autism.”
One such session was with Sean Romano, MS, BCBA, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, who is also a GMercyU alumnus. With his 15 years of behavioral experience and interactive presentation, Sean shared great tips that teachers or parents can use with children on the spectrum to help with behaviors.
“Many classrooms and home settings have a routine in place, but how often is it rehearsed, practiced, and reinforced?” asked Sean during his “Classroom and Household Behavior Management Strategies” session. “Oftentimes, we get stuck in this idea that our students or children know the routine or that they know better. Even if you’ve been talking about the routine all year, the routine has to be rehearsed or practiced more, especially with young children.”
Sean then went on to highlight the benefits of planning and rehearsing predictable routines, which include raising children’s focus, saving time, removing distractions, and ultimately, lessening frustrations for all folks involved.
Throughout the day, attendees were able to join different sessions virtually. Although the Autism Conference moved to an online format, Dr. Schadler made sure that Mercy Hospitality was still a priority. Typically, attendees are provided free lunch while they are attending the conference in person, so this year, they were given GrubHub lunch cards that allowed them to order lunch to be delivered from their favorite local restaurant.
Additionally, Gwynedd Mercy University Education students put together online activities during the Conference so that the children of attendees had a special session to keep them engaged while their parents attended the conference. Children were able to interact with the GMercyU teacher and the other children in the session by dancing, creating animal scenes, and more.
The Conference was a success for professionals, parents, students, and children alike, with valuable resources to improve their interactions with individuals on the autism spectrum.
Learn more about Gwynedd Mercy University's Autism Institute.