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Upcoming Packard/Stanford Autism Symposium a Catalyst for Collaboration among Researchers and Community

PALO ALTO, Calif., Jan. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- For parents of children with autism, ordinary questions become bewilderingly hard to answer: What will it take for my child to thrive at school? Will he get better at interacting with others? How can I help her mature toward a satisfying adult life?

Parents, clinicians and educators of children with autism have a prime opportunity to ask such questions Saturday, Feb. 7, when Lucile Packard Children's Hospital hosts its second annual Autism Spectrum Disorders Update. The one-day symposium, co-sponsored by Stanford University School of Medicine, gives families a chance to meet top autism researchers and hear the latest findings on the neuroscience and treatment of autism. In response to feedback from last year's sold-out event, several presentations will focus on integrating people with autism into the world beyond their families.

"We want to be responsive to the concerns of parents and educators," said Carl Feinstein, MD, director of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Packard Children's. "And we feel it's important to keep people up-to-date on the evidence base for treatment." Feinstein, who also directs the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Stanford, said this year's program includes a new "Ask the Experts" hour for participants to pose their queries to panels of scientists. "This whole day is a catalyst for members of the autism community to interact with researchers and raise questions of their own," he said.

Symposium presentations, led by top psychologists, psychiatrists, educators, neurologists, and neuroscientists, will cover topics such as the neurology of autism; behavioral treatments for autism; and techniques for integrating high-functioning children with autism into general-education classrooms. "In addition to the evidence-based treatments available, each child with an autism-spectrum diagnosis needs an individualized approach," Feinstein said. "The degree of cognitive and language impairments, educational delays, special skills, social difficulties, and behavior problems vary greatly from one individual to the next. Often, doctors, educators and therapists must work together on treatment with the parents and child."

But simply describing advances in childhood treatments isn't enough. Parents also worry what will happen as their children with autism grow up. To tackle these concerns, Feinstein will present his clinical perspective on the transition to adulthood, an area he admits is challenging. "Once people with autism are in their late teens, the available clinical resources and expertise plummet," he said. It can be tricky for patients to find mental health care and educational resources after leaving the public school system.

Despite the difficulties, many young people with autism marshal the help they need to transition into satisfying adult lives. A clear example is 21-year-old Nick Perry, a longtime Packard patient diagnosed with autism at age 5. Nick, who greets new people with eye contact and a firm handshake, is now a junior at San Francisco State University. He's majoring in Urban Studies so that he can turn his lifelong passion for maps, transportation and urban history into a career as a city planner. He's also sharing an apartment with three other students and taking over many tasks parents and teachers used to do for him.

"It's a big transition from high school to college," Nick said. "You have the responsibilities of an adult. You have to start to advocate for yourself: if you need help, you have to ask for it." Parents Virginia and Robert are impressed. "Nick has such a willingness to thrive and excel," Robert said. "Our challenge now is that we want to stay informed and provide support but at the same time respect his independence."

Nick made the transition in stages. After increasing his load of mainstream classes through middle school and high school, he completed his lower-division undergraduate work at a community college, allowing him to live at home as he adjusted to college. Now, as a junior at SF State, he's increasingly adept at finding the resources he needs, such as life-skills training, help from his Packard physician in managing his medications, and appropriate accommodations from his university professors. One advantage his autism may give him, he says, is that "I soak up lots of information."

Feinstein said the opportunity for scientists at the annual symposium to interact with people who have daily experience with individuals with autism is invaluable. "It fires us up as researchers."

Registration and a complete symposium agenda are available at The $100 fee includes a continental breakfast and box lunch. The symposium runs 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center, 326 Galvez St. on the Stanford Campus. Parents, teachers, pediatricians, psychologists, caregivers, media and anyone with an interest in autism are invited to attend.

    Robert Dicks
    Lucile Packard Children's Hospital

SOURCE Lucille Packard Children's Hospital
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