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Autism symposium offers much-needed information

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Autism symposium offers much-needed information
Rosemount Minnesota P.O. Box 192 / 312 Oak St. 55024

Transitioning from high school to life beyond is a big experience for everyone. For kids on the autism spectrum, it's that much tougher.

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They have all the same questions. Go right to work? Go to college? Is a two-year or a four-year school a better option? But on top of that, they have a complicated system to wade through. There are resources available, but navigating it all can be challenging.

Dakota County Technical College Director of TRio Dora Schumacher knows the struggles those students can experience and wanted to help them make the transition easier. TRio is a federal program that aims to support and motivate low-income, first-generation college students as well as students with disabilities as they navigate academic environments from middle school to postgraduate programs.

At DCTC the TRio program works with a number of students on the autism spectrum. To help students getting ready to transition from school to work, Schumacher received a grant through Autism Speaks. The intent of the grant was to offer internships to DCTC students with Asperger's to help them learn the nuances of employment. As part of the grant she also agreed to hold an educational conference.

The Advancing with Autism Symposium took place Dec. 13 on the DCTC campus and drew more than 60 attendees including parents, educators, counselors and students with autism. While happy with the turnout, Schumacher wasn't surprised that so many people wanted the information.

"They're starved for this information. Parents don't know what's going to happen with their kid," said Schumacher.

The good news is with the right help, people on the autism spectrum can excel. The symposium included presenters from a variety of organizations that provide resources to people with autism as well people on the spectrum, who have gone on to have success.

Keynote speaker Dr. Stephen Shore shared his own remarkable story as person diagnosed with "Atypical development and strong autistic tendencies" and how he's made his life's work matching best practice to the needs of people with ASD.

Shore, who was nonverbal until he was 4, conveyed the idea that if he could do it, others can too. Shore is a professor at Adelphi University.

"What they're talking about here can be really helpful," said Shore of the symposium.

Shore, who speaks regularly to groups about autism issues, said he felt the symposium went well and that those who attended seemed genuinely engaged in what he had to say.

In turn the audience took a lot from Shore's message. One attendee told Shore she was "spellbound" by his presentation.

Other presenters included Abbie Wells-Herzog from the Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Wells-Herzog talked during a small group breakout session about employment services offered by the state.

Wells-Herzog focused on how the organization can help people have more independence. She said the incidence of autism is climbing and that state services for people on the autism spectrum are increasing as well. Her position was recently created to deal with the influx.

Schumacher said she was satisfied with how the symposium went. While she organized the symposium as part of the grant, Schumacher didn't rule out the idea of hosting it again.

Going forward, though, Schumacher said her biggest goal is to make sure people have the information they need to make the right decisions for them. She encouraged anyone seeking information to contact her.

"This isn't a plug for DCTC. There are many colleges and universities that offer programs. I just want people to have the information they need," said Schumacher.

For more information about DCTC and what it offers for people on the autism spectrum visit www.dctc.edu.

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Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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