The Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research and Autism Clinic will co-host a one-day conference March 23 in Blacksburg, with talks focused on improving services and care for families with autism in rural communities.

The 2018 Virginia Tech Autism Conference will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. March 23 at the Hyatt Place, 650 University City Boulevard, in Blacksburg. The conference will have two tracks: One for research talks and one for family workshops. A panel with rural community experts and stakeholders will speak about challenges faced by underserved communities in offering or accessing needed autism services, an effort that is a new focus of the center.

The keynote speaker for the day is Diana Robins, research program area leader for early detection and prevention at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She will speak about early screening processes for autism spectrum disorder in toddlers. Self-advocate and Radford University student Guy Smith will close the conference by sharing his experiences growing up, accessing services, and attending college in Southwest Virginia as a person on the autism spectrum.

“Our mission at the Virginia Tech Autism Clinic and Center for Autism Research is to merge science with service,” said  Angela Scarpa, center director and an associate professor with the Department of Psychology, part of the College of Science.

“We hope attendees will take away knowledge on specific research-based strategies and community resources that can be used to support people with autism across various important life stages – early childhood, school-aged, adult transition.”

She added, “We will focus on empowering rural communities with the goal of allowing all people to have access to the services they need, regardless of where they live or how much they earn.”

The segment for families will include a parent panel, with parents of children with autism discussing their real-life journey and lessons learned along the way, and workshops on the Individual Education Plan process for their child and Medicaid waivers.

The science-focused segment is geared toward educators, clinicians/service-providers, and researchers covering educational, clinical, biomedical, and technology-based research across the lifespan. The latter will include presentations by graduate students, faculty affiliates, and other professionals.

The Autism Clinic, under Scarpa’s direction, is taking a new active role in serving families with autism in Virginia’s rural Central Appalachian region. The group has converted a 2004 Itasca Spirit RV and will take it on the road to work with clients in several Southwest Virginia counties. 

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