Conference on autism spectrum disorders at Bethany College draws 200 attendees

Autism Light it up Blue PavilionNearly 200 people attended Bethany College’s conference about autism spectrum disorders on May 7.

The conference was hosted by students in the Science for Citizens honors class taught by Professor of Chemistry Loranelle Lockyear, Ph.D., as a service learning project. The conference featured presentations by the students and talks from four experts in the region. Local student Jeremy Koehler, a sophomore in criminal justice and history-political science from Wichita, Kan., gave a presentation on the autism spectrum, related disorders, and risk factors. He said, “I felt that the conference provided a great opportunity to learn about autism and how to deal with it in future careers. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about setting up an academic conference and showing off the academic strengths of Bethany College.”

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders–autism spectrum disorders–caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by social and behavioral challenges, as well as repetitive behaviors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 1 in 88 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum. This 1,000% increase in the past 40 years is only partly explained by improved diagnosis.

“Just as autism spectrum disorders are multi-faceted in nature, so are the impacts of autism on our society…[we] must be aware of the challenges and respond to them effectively,” said Lockyear in her opening remarks. “We do not know the cause or causes of autism…there are still so many questions to be answered. The more we know, the closer we get to understanding. And that’s the reason for this conference.”

Sean Swindler, M.S. Ed., the director of community program development and evaluation for the Kansas Center For Autism Research and Training (K-CART), presented current autism research.

Vicky Kloeppner and Rebecca Pflughoeft, members of the Autism Interdisciplinary Team of the McPherson school district, presented “The Nuts and Bolts of Autism” about tools and strategies for dealing with daily challenges in the classroom and at home.

Andrea Kinlen, Ph.D., L.P., a clinical psychologist at Prairie View in McPherson, presented the diagnosis of autism and associated disorders.

Clark Shultz, chair of the Insurance Committee of the Kansas State House of Representatives, presented autism insurance legislation.

The Science for Citizens honors students gave presentations on the autism spectrum, related disorders, and risk factors; a review of the research on the causes of autism; and autism treatments and accommodations. “I’m extremely proud of the students and pleased with how readily they were able to explain concepts in a way that was understandable to other non-scientists,” said Lockyear. “The twelve students in the course really pulled together to help each other understand as much as possible about their respective topics so they could give cohesive, informative presentations.”

Bethany College, established by Swedish Lutheran immigrants in 1881, is a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The mission of Bethany College is to educate, develop and challenge individuals to reach for truth and excellence as they lead lives of faith, learning and service. Bethany College is on the Web at www.bethanylb.edu/.

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