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Conference in West Hartford Will Focus on ‘Effective Strategies to Support College Students with Austism’

Center for Higher Education Retention Excellence (CHERE) will hold a conference in collaboration with University of Saint Joseph on April 1, which is Autism Day. Submitted photo

The Center for Higher Education Retention Excellence (CHERE) will hold its conference at the University of Saint Joseph on Autism Awareness Day.

West Hartford resident Jane Theirfield Brown will be keynote speaker at the conference. Submitted photo

West Hartford resident Jane Theirfield Brown will be keynote speaker at the conference. Submitted photo


The Center for Higher Education Retention Excellence (CHERE) is sponsoring a one-day conference, Higher Education & Students with Autism: What We Know, What We Need to Know & How We Get There Together, to explore best practices for educators working with college students who are on the autism spectrum.

The conference will be held on Autism Awareness Day, Friday, April 1, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford. The latest in CHERE’s series of higher education conferences in Connecticut is being developed in association with the University of Saint Joseph (USJ), according to CHERE Executive Director David Johnston.

For the past 50 years, the Gengras Center at the University of Saint Joseph has been a leader in educating students ages 5-21 with special needs by providing traditional courses in language arts, math, science, social studies, health, art, music and physical education, along with an expansive curriculum in life skills, vocational programming, and transition services. A new state-of-the-art facility, the Center for Applied Research and Education (CARE), was added a year ago to serve the needs of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders and developmental disabilities.

West Hartford resident David Johnston is the director of CHERE. Submitted photo

West Hartford resident David Johnston is the director of CHERE. Submitted photo

“This will be a superb opportunity for college and university faculty and staff from throughout the region to learn about strategies for improving the success of college students with autism,” Johnston said. “Increasingly, colleges are seeking approaches that will be effective, and this conference will bring together experts with vast experience and a determination to share their knowledge with colleagues.”

The keynote presentation will be by Jane Thierfeld Brown, Director of Student Services at the University of Connecticut School of Law and co-director College Autism Spectrum, and author of “Students with Asperger Syndrome: A Guide for College Personnel.” Copies of the book will be included in conference materials.

The conference is free, but registration is required, at www.thechere.org.

The program will also feature a student/parent response panel, and a panel focused on implementing university design and evidence-based practices. Participants in the panel discussions include:

  • Joan Nicoll-Senft, Ph.D., Chairperson & Professor, Department of Special Education & Interventions, Central Connecticut State University
  • Kathleen Whitbread, Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Saint Joseph
  • Diana J. LaRocco, Ed.D., Department Chair, Social and Educational Sciences, Goodwin College

Interactive session facilitators include Kassidy J. Brown, Director of Finance, The Light House; Andrea Hojnacki, M.A., Accessibility Services, Office of Accessibility Services, Charter Oak State College; Steven J. Bachelor, Ph.D., Faculty, Franklin Academy; and John Molteni, Ph.D., BCBA, Associate Professor of Special Education and Director for Autism and Behavioral Studies, University of Saint Joseph.

Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum – a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Some reports have suggested that college students with autism spectrum disorders are more likely than the general population to gravitate toward science and technology majors.

The mission of CHERE is to “understand and improve policies and practices for challenged students that lead to higher college retention, from the summer after high school graduation, through the first year, to graduation, and to employment.”

Previous CHERE conference topics have included Bridge Programs: From Here to There; Summer Melt: Students Who Fail to Matriculate. Why? What To Do?, and First-Year Experience: What Works and Why.

Co-sponsors of the conference on April 1 include the University of Saint Joseph and the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, with support from the Aetna Foundation.

For more information or to register for the conference, please call David Johnston, at (203) 640-6201, email him at [email protected], or visit www.thechere.org

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