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Lehigh raises the stakes on autism awareness



Linda Bambara

On Sunday, May 3, Lehigh University’s College of Education will host “Navigating the Autism Maze,” an afternoon of discussion featuring five nationally recognized experts on autism spectrum disorders.

The informative session will explore a range of best practices that families, educators and the special education community can use to support autistic individuals, regardless of their age. The event will be held at Zoellner Arts Center’s Baker Hall and will cost $10 per seat. Financial assistance may be available upon request.

“We’re learning that, although autism is much more prevalent than anyone previously thought, it’s still very difficult for families and the autism community to get the resources they need to best care for and support those with the disorder,” says Linda Bambara, professor of special education and associate chair of the department of education and human services at Lehigh’s College of Education.

“That’s why this forum is so valuable,” she says. “Our panelists are leaders in developing strategies for individuals with autism that are used in everyday settings.”

A February 2007 report, issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, states that autism afflicts one in every 150 American children and almost one in every 94 boys.

The costs of supporting autistic children are just as staggering. The Autism Society of America estimates the lifetime costs of caring for a child with autism can exceed $3.5 million, while the United States can expect to face almost $90 billion annually in costs associated with the disorder.

Experts to address a spectrum of issues

Bambara, a recognized scholar in the field of developmental disabilities and positive support planning, will moderate the panel discussion. She is currently the executive director of the college’s Lehigh Support for Community Living program, as well as the co-executive director of Lehigh’s Transition and Assessment program.

She is also a co-principal investigator for the recently-announced ASERT grant, which is being used to create a regional autism center in eastern Pennsylvania that will assess current services and develop training models to support the state’s fast-growing autism community.

Bambara will lead a panel of experts consisting of:

• Jed Baker, Ph.D., a behavioral consultant and for several New Jersey School Systems. Baker provides social skills training for students with pervasive developmental disorders and learning disabilities, and has written several social skills training books for practitioners in the field.

• Paula Kluth, Ph.D., a consultant, teacher, author, advocate and scholar who works with teachers and families to provide inclusive opportunities for students with disabilities and to create more responsive and engaging schooling experiences for all learners.

• Lynn Koegel, Ph.D., the clinical director of autism services in the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) Koegel Autism Center and a highly regarded authority on the disorder. Among other accomplishments, she has developed programs to improve communication in children with autism, including the development of first words, pragmatics and grammatical structures.

• Robert Koegel, Ph.D., an international authority in autism who specializes in language intervention, family support and school integration. He is the director of the UCSB Koegel Autism Center and a professor of both clinical psychology and special education.

• Joyce E. Mauk, M.D., president, CEO and medical director of the Child Study Center. She is a neurodevelopmental pediatrician who has done extensive research on autism spectrum disorders, psychopharmacology and behavioral disorders.

“The entire autism community can exchange ideas”



Gary Sasso

The autism session will serve as the 2009 installment of the college’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

“The College of Education here at Lehigh has positioned itself as a national leader in the special education arena, and the research that our faculty and alumni contribute to the field is widely recognized by our peers as both groundbreaking and relevant,” says Gary Sasso, dean of the College of Education.

“That’s the reason why we decided to take the lecture series in a bold new direction,” says Sasso, himself a renowned scholar in autism disorders. “This is forum in which the entire autism community can exchange ideas and share their particular areas of expertise. It’s a practice that, unfortunately, happens all too seldom.”

The college’s 2009 Distinguished Lecture Series title sponsor is St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network.

The May event follows a series of high profile developments related to autism at Lehigh. Aside from the ASERT grant, Lehigh hosted a two-day visit by Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer (CSO) of Autism Speaks.

--Tom Yencho


Posted on Tuesday, March 31, 2009

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