Milestones Autism Resources will host its virtual national autism conference on June 16 and June 17.
Leslie Rotsky, conference director at Milestones Autism Resources in Warrensville Heights, said the organization is expecting over 1,000 attendees. But since the conference will also be available on-demand through Aug. 15, they expect many more touch points. Open to families, individuals with autism and autism professionals, attendees can earn continuing education credit at the event and throughout the summer.
“The conference is our signature annual event, and it wholeheartedly supports our mission which is educating the autism community,” Rotsky said. “We have 90 sessions this year with national and local experts in the field, and we focus on practical, no-nonsense ways to help individuals with autism reach their fullest potential and live their best lives.”
Included in the speaker lineup are keynote speakers Morenike Giwa Onaiwu on June 16 and Alix Generous on June 17. Generous, a mental health advocate, TED Talk speaker, entrepreneur and autism self-advocate, will discuss mental health issues and diagnoses in addition to autism. Onaiwu, an educator, author, social justice activist and autism-self advocate, will discuss gender and diversity as a Black woman with autism.
“This is the first year both of our keynotes have an autism diagnosis, and both are women,” Rotsky said. “By far following almost every conference I have been involved in, sessions by those with autism are a fan favorite of attendees, that first account of what it is like to live with autism. They’re both dynamic speakers, have done so much and have done that with many challenges and obstacles in their way.”
One of the underlying themes will be the COVID-19 pandemic and how it impacted the autism community, Rotsky said. More personally, she said her son, who lives with severe autism, had never sat down in front of a computer before but had to because his school went fully virtual.
“We’re trying to help people regroup,” she said. “We will probably see persons with autism regress more so this past year than in other years, so that might be something we’re trying to help families through and get services back in place. How do you get your children back to the level of performance they were before?”
Some of the other topics to be discussed include diversity, mental health, how an autism diagnosis is often paired with other mental and medical disorders, educational practices and communication skills. For parents, there will be sessions focusing on the diagnosis management aspect of having a child with autism, including setting up trust funds and dealing with insurance. For educators and parents, there will be networking sessions. There will also be sessions for adults with autism, since “we know people are getting diagnosed later in life, especially women,” Rotsky said. There will also be a virtual art exhibit featuring 85 artists on the spectrum from around the world showcasing their work.
“Though we’re not in person, we’re trying to connect people – making it as interactive as possible and to continue building a connected community,” she said.