University Relations and Communications

Conference focus: Autism is more than a Kid Issue

July 23, 2009



Kim Schweikert, College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning, 896-5888
Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


Experts at two-day event to discuss community, social, education and medical aspects of autism


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — While studies show that 1 in every 150 children born in the United States will be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, reality also shows that autism affects more than those children and their families.


As children grow, autism is something that needs to be addressed head-on by educators, counselors, service agencies and communities.

Those issues will be the focus of a two-day conference on autism at Montana State University Billings on Aug. 3-4 at the Student Union Building. The conference costs $159 per person and is open to everyone. Parents of autistic children can register at a discounted rate of $125.


The conference — the sixth annual conference at the university focusing on at-risk populations and issues — is presented by the MSU Billings College of Education, the College of Professional Studies and Lifelong Learning and the Yellowstone Tavern Association. Supporters this year also include Easter Seals-Goodwill, Pediatric Therapy Clinic and CEI Electrical Contractors.


Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain, impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. The high incidence of autism is presenting some dramatic challenges for educators, medical professionals and families in Montana.


Last year’s autism conference led to some heightened awareness of insurance challenges faced by families with autistic children. A push for change by citizens and Montana legislators led to passage of a bill that addresses coverage of some treatment for autistic children. Known as Brandon’s Bill when it was winding through the session, Senate Bill 234 was signed into law in April by Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Laura Simonsen, Brandon’s mother, and state Sen. Kim Gillan, who sponsored the bill, will attend this year’s conference to talk about that legislation and what it means to parents.


This year’s conference will focus on older children with autism and will cover a variety of topics including:

  • Asperger’s Syndrome
  • Anger management
  • Supporting children with autism in regular classrooms
  • Estate planning for children with autism
  • Life skills education for transition years
  • Sensory integration
  • Social skills and social behavior
  • Medications

Specific break-out sessions will take place throughout the two-day conference to allow educators and others the opportunity to find out more about those specific issues.


The keynote speaker will be Brenda K. Roche Ph.D. LP, who is a neuropsychologist at Arrowhead Psychological and Behavioral Sciences. She will talk about “A Balanced Approach to Understanding Autism.”


Other speakers include Dr. Cheryl Young, special education expert from the MSU Billings College of Education, who will talk about the myths and facts related to transition and autism spectrum disorder and a panel of experts on medical intervention for autism.


Educators who take part in the conference can earn one college special education credit for additional $100.


To find out more about the conference or to register, call 896-5890.