"Aspects of Autism" Scientific-Practical Seminar with International Participation
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"Aspects of Autism" Scientific-Practical Seminar with International Participation
(Rivne, Ukraine, June 29 - July 2, 2009)

Iryna Granovska
Psychologist of Rivne Regional Clinical Diagnostic Center
Medical Genetic Center

People often associate an "autistic child" concept with an idea that the child cannot communicate, think and appropriately perceive the surrounding world. Lack of understanding can lead to failure in predicting activities and actions of such children. Moreover, that can provoke an autistic child's isolation from society. Thus problems of autistic children very often remain just their own problems.

Autism history begins with ancient legends and tales about children left by elves instead of the stolen ones. Real records appear in medical texts in 18 century. For the first time the "autism" term and its description as a syndrome were used by L. Kanner (an American children's psychiatrist) in 1943. He was the first to clearly differentiate children's schizophrenia and autism and to present main symptoms of this disorder which nowadays are commonly accepted as "classical picture of autism". L. Kanner was the first but not the only one who investigated the problem. In spite of controversial opinions among scientists, today we see considerable advances in autism diagnosis, programs of psychological correction are being developed.

Regarding Ukrainian realities, specialists admit the tendency towards increasing the number of diagnosed autism cases. At the same time both specialists (psychologists, speech therapists, speech pathologists, educators) and parents of autistic children need contemporary scientific information regarding the subject.

With the aim to show and help in understanding an autistic child's world, to learn the ways of effective communication with such children, during June 29 - July 2, 2009 there was held the "Aspects of Autism" scientific-practical seminar with international participation in Viktor Polishchuk Rivne Regional Clinical Diagnostic Center. Rivne Regional State Administration Health Care Department, Rivne City Executive Committee Department of Education, Ukrainian Special Needs Orphanages Fund (Virginia, US), "OMNI-Net for Children" International Charitable Fund were the co-organizers of this event. The seminar was open by Mrs. Kateryna Sychyk (Associate Head of Rivne City Executive Committee Department of Education) and Dr. Igor Shumliansky (Head Doctor of the Rivne Regional Clinical Diagnostic Center).

Dr. I. Shumliansky receiving Ukrainian Special Needs Orphanages Fund manager Mr. Jason Miller
Dr. I. Shumliansky (left) receiving Ukrainian Special Needs Orphanages
Fund manager Mr. Jason Miller (in the middle)

The seminar participants numbered 90 persons including specialists in psychology, speech therapy, speech pathology and education, psychology teachers from Rivne State Humanitarian University, Rivne Institute of "Ukraine" Open International University of Human Development, Stepan Dem'ianchuk International Economical and Humanitarian University, Lesia Ukrainka Volyn National University, medical geneticists, parents of children from Rivne, Volyn and Khmelnytsky oblasts.

Ukrainian Special Needs Orphanages Fund involved in preparatory activities a group of teachers and scientists from USA and UK and ensured their coming to Ukraine.

At the beginning of the seminar work Prof. Dianne Koontz Lowman (Early Childhood Coordinator of the Training and Technical Assistance Center at James Madison University in Virginia, US) and Kelly Marshall (teacher in a special program for children with autism in grades kindergarten through fifth, Arlington, Virginia, US) explained what autism is and characterized support strategies for autistic children. They also reviewed the spheres mostly changed in autism (social, behavioral, communicational and sensory), explained how an autistic child sees and perceives the world, discussed strategies to create optimal facilitated environment. Lectures included video materials regarding autistic children behavior with appropriate comments as well as handout materials. At the "Behavior as Communication" lecture on the last seminar day the audience listened to the ways how to guide the behavior of an autistic child, to cope with negative manifestations and to teach alternative skills; the participants had a possibility to prepare a visual manual for their own correctional practice to work with both autistic and other special needs children.

Ms. Galina Fedun (a student in Counseling with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, US, doing a research assistantship with the Department of Special Education) talked about development of reading and writing skills. She introduced the "Early Literacy Skills Builder Curriculum" developed by the department and translated into Ukrainian by Galina. It should be mentioned that the University of North Carolina at Charlotte posted on its site some more materials translated by Ms. Fedun (http://education.uncc.edu/access/Ukrainian%20Overviews%20Page.htm).

During the seminar: Kelly Marshall, Dianne Koontz Lowman and Galina Fedun
During the seminar: Kelly Marshall (left), Dianne Koontz Lowman (second
from the right) and Galina Fedun (right)

An excursus to the autism history, coverage of triad of impairments in autistic children, ways of mutual understanding and support was made by a scientist from United Kingdom Prof. Olga Bogdashina. She is a Visiting Lecturer at Birmingham University and Consultant Psychologist for Services for Adults with Autism, Doncaster, UK. Prof. Bogdashina worked as a teacher, lecturer and researcher, with a particular interest in sensory-perceptual and communication problems in autism. Since 1994, she has been the director of the first Day Centre for autistic children in Ukraine and the President of the Autism Society, Ukraine. Prof. Bogdashina's lectures were based on her books "Communication Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Do we speak the same language?" and "Sensory Perceptual Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Different Sensory Experiences. Different Perceptual Worlds". Having an adult autistic son herself, Olga shared her experience of a person who daily interacts, communicates and teaches an autistic child. She disclosed fundamental autism problems - sensory and mind peculiarities, problems in communication and studying, ways of correction and help to autistic children. She also gave a possibility to get acquainted with autism interpretation and related problems from the "inside" part by presenting works of such high-functional autistic people as T. Grandin ("Emergence: Labeled Autistic"), D. Williams ("Autism: An Inside Out Approach"), T. McKean ("Soon Will Come The Light"). The lecturer shared her practical experience in understanding autistic children behaviors. Having shown video materials and slides with situation statement, Prof. Bogdashina proposed to comment and explain what they had just seen and to outline the ways of help.

Dr. Olga Bogdashina speaking
Dr. Olga Bogdashina speaking

At the end of the each lecture day specialists had a possibility to get individual consultations by scientists, and parents - specific advices regarding caring and teaching their children. The seminar participants characterized the seminar to be very successful; they expressed their gratitude to the seminar organizers.

Each seminar participant received a Ukrainian copy of "Early Literacy Skills Builder Curriculum" (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, US). Rivne OMNI-Center got an English copy of the curriculum as well as O. Bogdashina's books "Sensory Perceptual Issues in Asperger Syndrome" (9 copies), "Communication Issues in Autism and Asperger Syndrome" (10 copies), "Everyday Education. Visual Support for Children with Autism" (10 copies), "Dasha's Journal: A Cat Reflects on Life, Catness and Autism" (10 copies). The OMNI-Center will share the books with Rivne Children's Home, "A Special Child" and "Pahinets" rehabilitation centers (Rivne), Volyn and Khmelnytsky OMNI-Centers (one copy for each facility).

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