News Article Details

2017 SW Washington Autism Conference Has Biggest Year Yet

The Chronicle - 10/31/2017

Oct. 28--When Monica Meyer heard a middle school psychologist's plan to handle her autistic son's outbursts included tackling the teen, who also had a seizure disorder, she was horrified.

"That's not going to happen," she said.

The experience led her to quit her job as a pediatric health clinic manager and work with Educational Service District 112 to develop better plans and policies for autistic students and their families.

Meyer, now a consultant and advocate for individuals on the autism spectrum based in the Vancouver area, was the keynote speaker Friday morning at the 2017 Southwest Washington Autism Conference.

The seventh-annual edition of the conference was held this year at Centralia College. It was the best-attended event in the conference's history, said event facilitator Bill Weismann.

Friday's conference drew more than 300 registrations, he said, topping the previous best attendance by 50 percent.

"Today we've made history for this conference as well as for Southwest Washington," Weismann said.

People attended the conference from about 12 counties in Washington, including some attendees from as far away as Spokane.

The conference included speakers and workshops and was geared toward parents, educators and teens and adults with autism. This year, the event focused on long-term planning for families of autistic individuals.

While support is widely available for children with autism, services become few and far between as those individuals transition into adulthood, Meyer said.

"When they exit school, that's not available," she said. "It's a whole different world."

She encouraged parents to plan early and thoroughly for their child's future and to think of themselves as lifelong caregivers.

She said autistic individuals needed to be involved in planning for their future and encouraged to follow their own dreams and pursue their own interests.

"Just because I'm my son's guardian doesn't mean I rule his life," Meyer said of her now 33-year-old son Michael. "I help him make good choices."

She stressed the importance of person-centered planning -- focusing on the autistic individual's needs, rather than what is easy or convenient for caregivers or agencies involved in that person's care.

The event was primarily sponsored by the Lewis County Autism Coalition and Centralia College, but was also sponsored by a number of organizations in the community and Western Washington, Weismann said.

In addition to the keynote speech, Meyer also participated in a question and answer session. Other workshops included discussions on how parents can cope with a new diagnosis, improving work behavior, emergencies, employment for individuals with autism, a panel of parents of autistic individuals and tips on working with schools.

Lewis County Autism Coalition board member Tanner Calder participated in a panel of adults on the autism spectrum.

Calder described himself as having a high-functioning type of autism, and said he didn't receive a diagnosis until he was 18.

He said he hopes his success as an adult is inspiring to parents of children with autism.

"Autism isn't a disability, it's an ability," he said.

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(c)2017 The Chronicle (Centralia, Wash.)

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