CENTRE COUNTY, Pa (WTAJ) – The National Autism Conference will be held in person on the Penn State University Park campus beginning Monday, Aug. 1 for the first time since 2019.

The annual conference, which runs from Monday, August 1 to Thursday, August 4 at The Penn Stater Hotel and Conference Center, was held for virtually the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s exciting to be back in person,” Amiris Dipuglia, an educational consultant with the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network (PaTTAN) said. PaTTAN runs the conferences.

“One of the highlights of the conference is all the opportunities for collaboration and networking within the conference halls and sessions. Everybody really missed that.”

Because some participants will still be attending the conference virtually, Dipuglia said organizers will record as many sessions as possible and post the recordings on YouTube, where they will be available for all registered participants for eight weeks following the conference. Registration for remote attendance is available until August 26.

Walk-in registration is available at the conference from July 31 – August 4. 

Having the conference in person means the return of the Children’s Institute, a summer-camp-like experience for students with autism as well as their siblings. Dipuglia said the camp, which culminates with a musical play, allows parents to attend conference sessions while their children are having an enriched experience. High school students, meanwhile, can attend a science camp on the Penn State campus. 

Dipuglia said the conference differs from other conferences on autism because its target audience is not just professionals but also parents, caregivers and students themselves.

“One audience that is a priority for us is parents and caregivers who are faced with having to make decisions for their loved ones,” she said.

This year’s conference has a variety of sessions geared toward parents, including one on “Finding Online Information about ASD: Tips for Families and Professionals” and another called, “IEP, SDI, LRE… Someone Tell Me What These Letters Mean! A Guide to Understanding the Components of the IEP and How to Become a Fully Active Central Member of the Team.”

Dipuglia said another focus of this year’s conference is the post-pandemic staffing crisis in special education. Sessions such as “Promoting Staff Retention and Effective Instruction Through Evidence-Based Staff Training Practices” and “Overcoming the Current Crisis of Staff Shortages for Students with Intensive Learning Needs” will focus on attracting, preparing and retaining school personnel.

Dipuglia said that many conference sessions focused on effective, evidence-based instructional practices in hopes this would “inspire future teachers and empower current staff to be successful and well-prepared to achieve great outcomes for the students they serve.”

The conference includes an exhibit of art by students with autism and a poster session on Wednesday, August 3 during the evening. The session will be highlighting evidence-based case studies and best practices, Dipuglia said.

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The conference is hosted by PaTTAN, the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, and the Pennsylvania Department of Education in partnership with Penn State Outreach and the Penn State College of Education.

Visit the National Autism Conference website for more information.