UVU to Host 12th Annual Autism Conference

Individuals with autism, their families, educators, and mental health practitioners are invited

The Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism (MNCA) will host Utah Valley University’s (UVU) 12th Annual Autism Conference on Feb. 24, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the UVU Sorensen Student Center, with pre-conference events taking place on Feb. 23.

The 2023 Autism Conference’s theme is “Bridging Gaps, Improving Lives.” The keynote speaker, Peter Gerhardt, is the executive director of the EPIC School in Paramus, New Jersey. The EPIC School provides autistic students with the skills needed to be independent in and out of the classroom. Gerhardt will speak on Feb. 24 at 9 a.m. His address, entitled “Sexuality and Sexual Behavior: A Lifelong Perspective,” is among several sessions addressing the topic of sexuality and autism, most of which occur during the pre-conference on Feb. 23.

“It is important to learn about and discuss this topic,” said Jane Carlson, MNCA director. “Sexuality and sexual education are rarely discussed, and autistic individuals are significantly more likely to be the victims of sexual abuse and assault than others in the community. It is a critical issue that we need to discuss openly in our community to improve both health and safety.”

Other session topics include bridging the gap between autism and employment, suicide prevention, caregiver fatigue, building social relationships, and promoting independence for autism learners.

“We look forward to these opportunities to bring our community together to learn and grow,” Carlson said. “This conference is a unique space for autistic individuals, families, and professionals to hear from each other and take away practical information to strengthen our community.”

The conference is specifically designed for individuals with autism, as well as their parents, extended family members, educators, professionals, mental health practitioners, and Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs). The public is also invited to attend.

“Research indicates that when people feel like they belong, they thrive in their communities,” said Laurie Bowen, MNCA associate director. “Not only does the Autism Conference provide an opportunity for individuals, parents, and professionals to come together, hear personal perspectives, and learn best practices and ways to best support individuals with autism, but through the conference, we seek to increase belonging and understanding for autism on our campus and in our community.”

To register for the conference and learn more about this year’s keynote speakers, visit https://www.uvu.edu/autism/conferences/. If you have questions about the conference, please contact Laurie Bowen at [email protected] or (801) 863-8759.