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Children have chance to shine at National Autism Conference

Joe Lynch threw his hands up every time he sang the word “high” in the song “King of the High Cs.” In fact, his voice could also be heard just a little bit louder than the rest during play practice Wednesday morning.

He, along with other autistic students participating in the Children’s Institute, was preparing to perform “Pirates! The Musical.”

Every year, the group presents a different musical on the last day of the National Autism Conference, held annually at Penn State.

“They have three days to learn their lines and learn the songs, and create props if needed,” said Cherie Neely, Central Intermediate Unit 10 education consultant and Children’s Institute co-director.

Last year, the group performed “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

The Children’s Institute is a summer camp event, hosted by CIU 10, created for the children of families who attend the four-day conference.

“It was created for families so they could learn from the sessions being offered for the adults, and their children could be safe and have fun so the parents can relax,” Neely said.

With just less than 100 kids registered this year, Neely said they’re split into groups that rotate among three activities: sensory, yoga and outdoor play time.

Amiris DiPuglia, a leader with the autism initiative at the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network, said children are accepted into the camp based on an application process and are granted a scholarship that allows parents or guardians to attend the conference for free while their children participate in the Children’s Institute.

In its 21st year at Penn State, the four-day conference offers about 80 sessions focused on establishing instruction methods to help students become more independent, provide attendees with skills to aid in a student’s transition to college and employment, and more, spokesman Matt Caracappa said in a report.

DiPuglia said this year, the conference includes sessions to address problem behavior, instructional practices and specific procedures to teach specific skills and social skills. It also includes new topics, such as workshops on behavioral interpretation of memory and teaching-to-learn.

“We have sessions across all levels, so it targets not only providing the participant with evidence-based practices, so all the participants have access to quality sessions and addresses at the practitioner level and interventions and needs based on evidence, as well as professional growth for those folks who actually have a stronger base in behavioral analysis and what the latest research is,” she said.

Aside from the main topic of the conference, which is teaching complex behavior, basic sessions also are held aimed at teachers, staff and parents who are part at the beginning stages of autism research.

“I’ve benefited from this conference as a parent, but I have to say that over the years the conference has definitely, each year, gotten better,” DiPuglia said. “When you see the translation of it in children and individuals you can see the difference in their lives.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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