Autism conference begins in city

Organizers say goal is to empower the 1,500 participants

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The nation's largest autism conference is being held here today through Saturday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

The Autism Society of America's 44th annual conference expects nearly 1,500 participants, including people on the autism spectrum, family members, doctors, researchers, nonprofit agency officials and politicians.

The event's plenary sessions will start today with scheduled speeches by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and National Institute of Mental Health director Thomas Insel.

The Friday plenary will feature a media panel moderated by Richard Wolf, an autism parent and a staff writer for USA Today, discussing how autism is covered in the news and how activists and families can get their messages out to the public.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the co-chairmen of the Congressional Coalition for Autism Research and Education, are scheduled to talk about how government can help with autism services, particularly for growing population of adults on the spectrum.

Daily sessions today through Saturday afternoon will feature everything from how to prepare people with autism for the job market and how to deal with aggression in children with autism, to how to choose the right school for an autistic child and special equine therapy programs.

"The ultimate goal of this conference is to empower family members, individuals on the spectrum and professionals to make informed decisions that lead to improved outcomes, self-sufficiency, respect, dignity, and overall quality of life," said Scott Badesch, president of the society.

Late registration ranges from $375 for an individual to $565 for a family of up to three, and can be done on-site or by calling 1-888-823-4925. A one-day registration costs $200. People with autism can register for free.

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