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Rigorous Five-day Course Examines the Diagnoses and Treatments of Autism

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Hudson Graduate Center at Rockland,
Long Island University

Dozens of educators, administrators and social workers gathered at the Rockland Graduate Campus of Long Island University this August 2007 for an intensive week-long institute on “Diagnosis and Treatment of Autism and Related Disorders.” According to Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization, autism is a complex neurobiological disorder that impairs a person's ability to communicate and relate to others and is more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

The three-credit, graduate-level course, taught by Dr. Mary Jean Marsico, assistant superintendent for special student services at Rockland BOCES, combined a broad-base overview with pragmatic applications to the classroom and home.

“There has been such a tremendous rise in diagnosis of children with autism,” said Dr. Marsico. “The challenge for the educational community is to figure out how to provide the best service to a child on the autism spectrum in the school setting.”

Over a demanding five days, educators, administrators and social workers focused on the prevalence of autism in the classroom, theories regarding diagnosis, neurological research, the causes of autism and services for the autistic child. Experts who also presented at the Institute included representatives from Rockland BOCES: Catherine O'Brien, supervisor of special education; Julie Larsen, principal, and Dr. Peter Bleckman, assistant principal.

Dr. Marsico, who has taught similar classes nationally and internationally, says there are some prominent theories and research as to why the number of children with autism has increased so dramatically - as many as one in 150 children. A genetic link that affects several genes and combinations of genes is a hypothesis, as is a compromised immune system combined with a genetic predisposition. Both of these theories account for the very wide spectrum of the disorder. Better screenings and diagnoses also play into the rise in cases, she said.

At the conclusion of the week, students had the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of life with autism from members of a parent panel who had autistic children at various grade levels. They talked about their perspective on the disorder and suggested ways the educational community could meet the needs of children with autism.

A similar institute was recently offered at Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus by Dr. James Vacca, chair of the Department of Special Education and Literacy and an assistant professor of education at C.W. Post.

Posted 08/15/2007

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