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International keynotes headline national Autism conference

International keynotes headline national Autism conference

25 July 2016

For immediate release

Two world-renown autism researchers from the University of California are headlining Autism New Zealand’s strongest ever national conference at Wellington’s Shed 6 on August 19-20.

The conference will provide a unique opportunity for delegates to network within the autism community, and share celebrations at the 19 August awards dinner. The theme for the conference is empowering people living with Autism.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a developmental disability affecting social and communication skills, is the fastest growing development impairment in New Zealand, but is also the most underfunded. It affects 77,500 New Zealanders – one in 58 people - equivalent to the entire region of Otago. It has no known cause, and no known cure.

It also takes up to two years for a full diagnostic assessment of ASD due to funding constraints.

While it affects both children and adults, more children are affected by an autism spectrum disorder than children affected by childhood cancer, diabetes, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy or Down syndrome combined.

The conference is proudly sponsored by Pak’n Save Petone and Hutt City. Conference MC will be entertainer and speaker Nick Tansley and the conference will be opened by Wellington’s Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown.

Keynote speakers, Dr. Karen Pierce and Eric Courchesne, are directors at the University of California’s Autism Centre of Excellence. They will present their extensive research and insight into autism at prenatal stage and an approach to empowering people with autism from as early as one year old.

Dr Pierce is a leading expert on ASD. Her research spans a range of topics from early screening and detection to eye tracking. Her early detection approach, called the 1-Year Well-Baby Check-Up Approach, has resulted in rapid treatment access of toddlers.

Eric Courchesne is internationally recognised for his research on the developmental neurobiology of Autism Spectrum Disorder. His ground breaking studies provide evidence that ASD is a prenatal neural disorder.

Austism New Zealand Chief Executive Dane Dougan says both keynote speakers make this year’s conference the strongest yet.

“We see this conference as a major step forward in gaining valuable insights from two key influencers from the Autism Center of Excellence. The ability to hear both first hand here in New Zealand is tremendously exciting.

“This is a conference not to be missed.”

Other speakers include professional advocate and educator Robert Mackay, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of six. He also assists New Zealanders with disabilities to find employment. Josephine Barbaro, Research Fellow at the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, La Trobe University will be discussing her research interests, the early identification and diagnosis of Autism in infants and toddlers, and family health and well-being following a diagnosis.

Also keynoting is author and autism educator Craig Smith, deputy principal of the Aspect Hunter School for Children with Autism in Newcastle, New South Wales. Dr Smith presents primarily on topics related to autism pedagogy, the utilisation of special interests in the classroom and the implementation of technology including i-Pads. His ground-breaking work with iPads and autism both at home and in the classroom is world-renowned.

Apple iPad technology is making a real difference to the way people with autism experience the world, Mr Dougan says.

“We’re delighted to be bringing Craig Smith to our conference – iPads are being used in so many classrooms, and we’re looking forward to learning from his experiences. It’s clear this technology is revolutionising how we think about teaching people with Autism.”

Smith’s latest book, released in February, Kindness Savant Will Pixellate, is an essay on key considerations in autism education, and is available for download”> here

The awards dinner will recognise and celebrate outstanding achievements of those who support, research and work with those with autism, and also an outstanding achievement by a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The Autism New Zealand website provides a full overview of the conference, programme, ticketing as well as full synopsis of the keynote speakers.

Earlybird registrations end on July 31. For more information and to register visit

ENDS 658 words

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