Autism Community Forum rocks the house

Read Michael Pelfini’s biography.

On Friday, February 5, over 325 people convened at the Autism Community Forum in Oakland to hear experts speak about how we can meet the incredible needs of individuals with autism. Educators, parents, researchers, community leaders, private and public practitioners — we were all there to discuss the challenges of autism.

The filled-to-capacity event was testimony of the desire for quality information on the topic of autism. This was truly an inclusive event, drawing local, state and national experts. Speakers included:

  • Louis Vismara, MD, Policy Consultant to California State Senator Darrell Steinberg,who gave an update on public policy and legislation related to Autism Spectrum Disorder in California.
  • Patricia Wright, Ph.D., National Director of Autism Services for Easter Seals,who spoke on the value of identifying and using evidence-based therapies and treatments for children with autism.
  • Bryna Siegel, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Autism Clinic Director, UCSF, who brought to light the most recent information available regarding the learning styles of children with autism.
  • Marie Rocha, M.A., of the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute, who outlined the key elements of the Early Start Denver Model treatment methodology developed specifically for children with autism.

The forum confirmed that, while it is a lifelong disability, autism is treatable. People with autism can, and do, lead meaningful lives. It’s equally true that Autism is bigger than any one of us can handle alone. We’re all doing our best, but current systems, structures and resources to help people with autism and their families do not adequately meet the growing need.

I’m reminded of the Gary Larson cartoon depicting Rex, the acrobatic dog who finds himself experiencing a moment of truth midway through his balancing act on the circus high wire. The caption reads: “High above the hushed crowd, Rex tried to remain focused. Still, he couldn’t shake one nagging thought … he was an old dog, and this was a new trick.”

We need to innovate. Our public, private, and social sectors can no longer afford to operate or relate to one another “business-as-usual.” And we need to act. That is why Easter Seals Bay Area is using inclusive child care, special education-related services , early diagnosis and intervention to meet the needs of individuals and families living with autism. We’re building and participating in coalitions throughout the Bay Area to address these issues and very clear needs. We are also delivering training opportunities specifically designed for school administrators, teachers, and others working with school-aged youth with autism.

And that’s not all! Through Easter Seals National Headquarters and the California statewide network of Easter Seals affiliates, we are talking with our Congressional and state legislators, who can make an enormous difference for families and young people living with autism.

Help, hope and answers … right now!


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