Autism experts gather in Charleston for largest regional forum - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Autism experts gather in Charleston for largest regional forum

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Saturday several organizations met at the Sottile Theatre in downtown Charleston for the largest autism forum in the Southeast.

"I go in and speak with parents and provide updates, we talk about nutritional intervention, medications, diagnostics, how to work with schools and transition into adulthood," Dr. Frampton Gwynette, director of MUSC Project Rex said.

Based on the number of people in the audience of the forum Saturday, it's easy to see more people are becoming aware or impacted by autism. That's one reason Gwenette said MUSC doctors are going into the tri-county school districts to identify kids on the spectrum.

However, some parents asked News 2 about questions they have for children already diagnosed.

The first question Gwynette addressed is diet: "There's a lot of clues that the GI tract of person with autism spectrum disorder are different than those of people who are what we call neuro-typical so they may be more sensitive to certain foods in the diet, they may have different inflammation process if exposed to those foods and certainly some parents report that a change in diet can cause a significant improvement," Gwynette said, "...right now there's not a lot of hard evidence in the medical literature, which takes a long time to build, that would indicate that a certain diet would work for the population."

While the message at the forum was often times that no two children on the autism spectrum are the same, on thing that's certain is that they will all grow up to be adults.

"So it's very critical that they pursue higher education and get jobs after they're done with high school. Right now we have a long way to go in the Charleston area in terms of integrating all of the possibilities for young adults on the autism spectrum," Gwynette said.

Taking that message one step further was adult autism expert Peter Gerhardt, who asks employers to open their doors to new opportunities by partnering with local schools.

"I think it's critical that we involve employers in the transition process so we know what skills they're looking for plus giving kids with autism, no matter where they are on the spectrum, the ability to job sample, to intern, to try different jobs and to see what they like," Gerhardt said. "Not only does this benefit the person with autism but it benefits employers. Right now we have this vastly untapped resource pool of potential employees that have autism so if we can better connect the two in a way that makes employers know they're going to get qualified employees, they're going get competent people, I think it's a win-win for everybody."

Gerhardt said there's also a few tax rebates available to these employers. As well, social security can help aid the employee in getting and maintaining those jobs.

Lori Unumb, whose son inspired her to create "Ryan's law" which works to get health insurance coverage for autism, also encouraged anyone in need of them to ask their employer to extend coverage to include autism-related benefits.

Organizers said they plan to hold this forum again next year.

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