Autism event touts advances, treatment, hope

2014 Midsouth Autism Conference logoParenting an autistic child — or navigating life as an autistic adult yourself — isn’t easy in a world where few people immediately recognize and understand this disorder. The 2014 Midsouth Autism Conference aims to educate families and professionals on the latest information to help people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

The event, organized by Transformations Autism Treatment Center in Bartlett, will be June 19-21 in Memphis. All activities will be at the Fogelman Executive Conference Center, 330 Innovation Drive, Memphis (at the University of Memphis). On-site registration is 8-10 a.m. Thursday and Friday.

One of the areas of focus now in autism is when individuals are graduating from high school and wondering if college is an option and what are they going to do, said Jeff Holtzman, director of finance for Transformations.

“We have different ones who are presenting, talking about going to college, talking about employment — basically after they age out of school, then what,” he said.

It’s truly a worthy event, according to Holtzmann. “These individuals a lot of times have a lot of potential. If someone is able to work with them and help them unlock that potential, they are able to do so much more than people expect.”

Tracy Palm, founder and executive director of Transformations, said, “We’ve seen so many kids lives and their families transformed up here. That’s where we got our name — Transformations. And that’s one of the things that’s always driven me up here, and working with these families and these kids, and one of the reasons why I wanted to head up this conference and really start this in this community — because I felt like there just wasn’t enough hope out there.”

Many adults with ASD can learn to live on their own, hold jobs, be productive members of society and be successful in many ways, she said. “We want families to get that and realize their kid is capable of so much.”

The Tennessee Early Intervention program cuts off at age three, and many children are not diagnosed until age two or later, she explained. Insurance reform would help fill in that gap. Families often report levels of regression after they leave treatment.

Leaving people untreated ultimately hurts society, even affecting Tennessee financially, Palm said.

“When we’re not able to go in and do what we really need to do early on in life, then unfortunately a lot of these individuals end up in group homes and things like that as adults, which does cost Tennessee taxpayers money,” she said. “The more we can do when they’re young may lead to higher-functioning and more stable individuals as adults, which would then decrease the financial load on the state of caring for these individuals as adults — if they can get to a point where they care for themselves.”

She finds it heartbreaking when she encounters an older child or young adult who has never been given a way to communicate. “They all deserve the basic human right of learning some way to get their basic needs and wants met.”

With training and tools, people with autism can learn verbal or nonverbal methods, she said. “We’ve never had somebody we haven’t been able to teach some form of communication to.”

Event details

The conference events will be 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 8 a.m.-noon on Saturday. Admission is free to individuals with autism, $25 per person for families, or $150 for professionals. Childcare is available for $10 per day.

In past years, the conference’s attendees have been about 40 percent families and individuals, with the remainder being professionals (primarily educators). Continuing education credits are available for professional attendees. The conference’s goal is to give families and professionals the latest breakthroughs in autism research, theoretical advances and application of treatments. The four primary speakers are:

  • Kerry Magro, the keynote speaker and the author of the best-seller, “Defining Autism from the Heart: From Nonverbal to National Speaker.” Magro, 25, has autism and has developed a successful life. He earned a master’s degree in strategic communication and works as a motivational speaker, blogger, and founder/CEO of a non-profit that focuses on special-need housing for disabled people in New Jersey.
  • Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned autism expert who has autism herself and has become an innovative thought leader in the cattle industry. When she was diagnosed in 1950, her mother fought against advice to institutionalize her and instead involved her in regular education programs. She was the subject of the HBO movie “Temple Grandin” and is the author of nine books and presentations. Her latest is “The Autistic Brain.”
  • Dr. James Partington, who works with children who have ASD and other developmental delays. He focuses in language-based intervention. He is a licensed psychologist, an author and a doctoral board-level certified behavior analyst with more than 35 years of experience. He operates the Strategic Teaching and Reinforcement System (STARS) Clinic in California.
  • Tracy Palm, Transformations executive director and founder. She holds a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, is a board-certified behavior analyst, a national speaker on autism and has more than 18 years of experience working with children who have special needs. Her first book is “Labeling: Teaching Your Child to Name the World Around Them.”

Many other speakers are also on the roster. Topics include a historical look at autism, classroom styles, social skills, adaptive communication of preschoolers, promoting positive behavior, sensory processing disorder, co-occurring health problems, what Tennessee is doing to try to institute insurance reform to include applied behavior analysis (the most common autism treatment), and more.

About 30 vendors from throughout the U.S. will be at the conference, promoting books, services, products, centers and camps to help people with autism.

The full list of speakers, events, and a schedule are available online at

Sponsors include Boling Center for Development Disability, Memphis; Transformations, Bartlett; The Sensory Shop, Southaven, Miss.; Gillis Graphics, Arlington; Algonot LLC, Sarasota, Fla.; Will’s Way Pediatric Behavioral Psychology, Hattiesburg, Miss.; CNS Health Services, Memphis; Therapy in a Bin, Nashville; The Baddour Center, Senatobia, Miss.; and Future Horizons Publishing, Arlington, Texas.

Transformations Autism Center provides consultations, parent training, verbal behavior and ABA programs, behavior plant development training and tutoring. For more information, call (901) 231-1931 or go online to their websiteFacebook pagePinterest page or Twitter page.

RELATED STORY: One in 68 children has ASD. See this and other facts in a short article from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to