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April 12, 2016

Autism Experts Convene at Adelphi

by Alison Kohler

From left to right: John Elder Robison; Pat Schissel, M.S.W. ’95; Liane HollidayWilley; Dena Gassner; Stephen Shore, Ed.D.

Adelphi University’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education partnered with the Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (AHA) to host the annual Issues in Independent Living for Adolescents and Adults on the Autism Spectrum on April 2, 2016. The conference coincided with World Autism Awareness Day.

The conference’s purpose is to address the educational, social and behavioral issues for people on the autism spectrum, and to serve as a vital source of information for adolescents and young adults and their families and educators, counselors and other professionals who work with the ASD population.

Various individuals and professionals presented at the conference, including Pat Schissel, M.S.W. ’95, executive director of AHA and conference coordinator; Stephen Shore, Ed.D., clinical assistant professor in the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, author and international speaker; and multiple panels that included students, faculty and well-known experts in the ASD field.

“There’s a culture at Adelphi that is very accepting of people on the spectrum, from the president on down,” Schissel said.

The university offers the Bridges to Adelphi program, which eases the transition from high school to college for students with ASD.

Switched On

The keynote speaker, John Elder Robison, author, advocate and the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, discussed his experience of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) as autism therapy, detailed in his new book, Switched On. Robison recently wrote about his experience for The New York Times, which also reviewed his book.

Dr. Shore discussed the importance of “owning your autism,” and used a baseball cap he wears as an example. He explained that he wears it to keep indoor lighting from bothering his eyes, despite the fact that other people may think he is rude to wear it indoors.

Dr. Shore recommended a three-step plan for effective autism advocacy: awareness, advocacy and disclosure. Most of the experts echoed his advice that it takes acceptance, understanding and advocacy on everyone’s part to help individuals deal with ASD throughout their lives.

Dena Gassner, a nontraditional Ph.D. student who falls on the spectrum, is 57 years old and chose to live on campus.I don’t have to think about parking on Long Island. Finding a [lega] apartment where you can cook, where there’s a washer and dryer, is hard to do,” she said.

She wanted attendees at the conference to take away at least one point: “You don’t outgrow your autism; you grow into it,” she said. “You grow into self-efficacy, self-awareness and self-understanding.”

Gassner recently made an appearance in a Huffington Post interview about her diagnosis and how it both changed and clarified her life.


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