Stanislaus County Autism Conference offers seminars

Like other areas of the country, Stanislaus County has experienced an alarming incidence of autism in children.

For the second year, the Stanislaus County Autism Conference will offer seminars for parents of children with autism, professionals and community members.

The conference sponsored by the county Office of Education will take place from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on April 17 at the Martin Petersen Event Center, 720 12th St., Modesto.

Seminars will show parents how to encourage peer play, expand their children's language skills and use behavior management tools.

In January, a potential autism cluster in Modesto was identified in a University of California at Davis study that found 12 areas of California where the incidence of autism was higher than usual.

The research found no environmental causes for the cluster northeast and south of downtown Modesto.

Most of the clusters were in areas of the state where parents have higher-than-average educational levels. Some experts doubted a link between smart parents and autism but suggested those parents were more likely to seek a diagnosis and services for their children.

Local agencies see families move to Stanislaus County because of the services available for autistic children.

Tim Lechuga, a special day class teacher for children with autism, said there are now 18 classrooms for children with autism at public schools in the county, which is three times the number in 2003.

Lechuga said the conference will provide parents with more information about the disorder and the process of getting special education services for children.

Register online for the conference by April 14. Go to

www.stancoe. org/SCOE/workshops/welcome.html. The cost is $20, which includes continental breakfast and lunch. Scholarships are available for parents. For more information, call Cindy Hayes at 541-2322 or Amy Hale-Wiggins at 541-2326.