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BYU autism conference offers help

By Barbara Christiansen daily Herald - | Jan 30, 2015

PROVO – There is a no-man’s land in which a child is no longer a child, but has yet to become an adult.

For many it is a brief period of time. For those with autism it can last a lifetime.

Brigham Young University offered a conference on best practices for autism as it relates to adolescents. It was held Friday at the university’s conference center.

A session addressed the transition process in education, including post-secondary education supports and programs. One presenter spoke about legal issues, particularly when the autistic individual is reaching the age of 18 when most consider him or her an adult. How an individual with autism relates to law enforcement was also addressed, as were services for adolescents on the autism spectrum disorder and how they relate to family members.

Most of the attendees were from the professional world — physicians, nurses, psychologists, school psychologists, educators, and speech and language pathologists were among those specifically invited. Presenters came from universities and the legal and law enforcement worlds.

At least one had first-hand knowledge of the subject. Lisa Thornton is an attorney and the mom of an 11-year-old who has the disorder.

“Parents do everything we can,” she said. “Most families don’t know how to plan for the transition time when they are 18 or 22.”

She pointed out some of the options available to those on the spectrum. Those include attending college and serving missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Both educational institutions and the LDS Church have options available for afflicted students. Utah Valley University in Orem, Scenic View in Provo and The Curtis Center, soon to open in Lehi, are examples.

Legal documents Thornton recommended were a special needs trust, letters of guardianship, power of attorney, advance health care directive, will, revocable trust and a life care plan or letter of intent.

When someone turns 18, he or she is considered an adult. Three months prior to that time, those who feel a need to create a guardianship for a disabled individual should begin the process, Thornton said.

There are two types of guardianships — limited and full. Just as autism has a spectrum of how severely people may be affected, there is a spectrum of needs that an autistic adult may have.

Utah generally tends to favor limited guardianships, but about 90 percent of the guardianships for a disabled child who has turned 18 are full guardianships, Thornton said.

She urged parents of children on the autism spectrum to get help to ascertain their condition.

“I see my daughter differently from what others see her,” Thornton said. “You might want to talk to a school psychologist, counselor, physician or other to get a full picture.”

Thornton summed up how she and many parents feel.

“I want my daughter to live her life to the fullest, but I want her to have a safety net for when she falls,” she said.

The conference appeared to be a success, said one of the organizers, Terisa Gabrielsen.

“We are very pleased with the turnout and the quality of the presenters,” she said.

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