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Autism Conference Aims at Awareness, Early Intervention

In an effort to bring awareness to Autism Spectrum Disorders, the Virgin Islands University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VIUCEDD) and the Virgin Islands Autism Network will host the second annual Virgin Islands Conference on Autism. The conference will be held on St. Thomas and St. Croix. On St. Thomas the conference will be held at the University of the Virgin Islands on April 23, in the first floor conference room of the Administration and Conference Center. On St. Croix the conference will be held on April 24, in UVI's Great Hall North West Wing. Sessions on both campuses will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Breakfast and lunch will be provided.

Autism is defined as a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills, according to the Autism Society of America.

"Autism is a national health problem," said VIUCEDD Assistant Director Gerri Hanna. "There is an increase in the number of children who are being diagnosed," she said. "The issue is really to identify it early and provide intervention in the early years so that children can have the potential to reach their capacity and become contributing members of society."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in 150 children in the United States has autism. The prevalence is even higher in boys, where one in 94 has autism.

"Early intervention shows one of the highest percentages of improvement in the disability," said Stephanie Barnes, founder of the V.I. Autism Network. "With awareness, the community will be more sensitized to autistic-like behaviors which may be associated with the disorder," she said.

Once those characteristics are identified, professional diagnoses and treatment can be sought, she said.

Guest speakers at the conference will include autism experts from the Westchester Institute for Human Development in New York. Speakers will address the topics of early detection of autism spectrum disorder, skill building and behavioral strategies, and understanding challenging behaviors.

While the conference is open to the public, specific groups of people are encouraged to attend. They are teachers, health care professionals, parents, school administrators, physicians, social workers, psychologists, speech, occupational and physical therapists, members of the justice system and people in the disability community.

Advance registration is required. To register on St. Thomas, contact Maritza Swan at mswan@uvi.edu or call 340-693-2334. On St. Croix contact Gerri Hanna at ghanna@uvi.edu or call 340-692-1919.

Additional information is available from Stephanie Barnes at viautismnetwork@gmail.com or 340-626-3330.