Amiris DiPuglia didn’t put much effort into finding out “why” after her first child was diagnosed with autism.
“Here’s the choice I did have after crying for two days straight: What am I going to do about it,” said DiPuglia, delivering the keynote speech Thursday at the National Autism Conference at Penn State.
“‘Why’ in no way shape or form can help me help my children,” she said to a crowd of several hundred gathered at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. “I’ll tell you what has helped me help my children: not giving up on finding effective (treatment).”
Then a doctor, DiPuglia gave up her medical career when her son, Alexander, was diagnosed with autism. She became a tireless advocate for her son, and eventually pursued her certification as a behavior analyst to help other children with the disease.
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DiPuglia shared her story of persistence, study and practice on Thursday with other parents and educators who work with autistic children. The mother said she dropped everything in her life — going to every possible training, reading studies and trying evidence-based treatments.
“Did I know this 14 years ago when I wish I knew it? No,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what, I wasn’t going to give up until I learned it. And you shouldn’t either. And until I did, I sought out the professionals who could help me learn so I could help my children. And now I have the incredible opportunity to help so many others.”
The four-day conference gave 1,475 people, including family members, teachers, academics and physicians, an opportunity to learn from DiPuglia and a host of other experts in the field. There were almost 100 conference sessions over the course of the week.
“We talked about the core needs of children with autism,” said Mike Miklos, lead consultant for the autism initiate at the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network.
The group, also know as PaTTAN, sponsors the annual conference, along with the state Department of Education and Penn State.
“Autism is a disability that affects children’s social and communicative skills and makes it more difficult for them to interact with other people,” Miklos said. “Presenters focused on how to get children to interact, to learn language in ways that will help them communicate effectively with other people.”
Penn State said in a statement that other presenters focused on helping young people with autism make the transition to college and careers.
“The education system has to start with a real vision of employability and competence for kids,” Peter Gerhardt, one of the presenters, said in a university statement. The goal is to be employed, to be part of the community, to be as independent as possible. If we don’t set that as our goal, we never achieve it. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
DiPuglia said parents gathered at the conference are lucky to have events like it, and to have access to all the knowledge accumulated there.
“You are more fortunate than you can imagine,” she said. “Don’t take them for granted, and keep coming.”