(Editor's note: Registration for this event has reached capacity.)

The Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research’s biennial spring conference returns live, in-person for the first time since 2019 on April 21 at The Inn at Virginia Tech. The one-day event also will mark the 10th anniversary of the center.

Among the keynoter speakers are developmental psychologist Julie Lounds Taylor, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center who will talk about her research on supporting families and youth during transition age, and Daniel Durany, a self-advocate who is on the autism spectrum and who has specialized in sports data analytics and spoken at such events as the 2013 Texas State Autism Conference and the 2014 Oklahoma State Autism Conference.

The conference also will feature a parent panel and presentations from current and former faculty and student affiliates of the Virginia Tech Autism Clinic and Center for Autism Research on biomedical, technology, education, and clinical research applied to autism, according to Angela Scarpa, center director and a professor in the Department of Psychology, part of the Virginia Tech College of Science.

Scarpa said researchers, self-advocates, parents/caregivers, providers, and anyone interested are invited. The event takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cost per person is $10, and lunch and refreshments are provided. Pre-registration is required and will close on April 17. Limited scholarships are available for individuals with autism, students, or others in need. Individuals with a disability who desire accommodations should email the center at vtautismcenter@vt.edu at least 10 business days prior to the event.

“At the end of the day, we hope attendees will take away the sense of pride we have in celebrating neurodiversity as we close our 10th year,” Scarpa said. “Our theme is access and neurodiversity, and we aim to present research on autism from different theoretical perspectives that will ultimately offer the kind of understanding needed to facilitate autism-friendly services and supports through the lifespan and improve access to those resources.”

Amy Azano, an associate professor of adolescent literacy in the School of Education and director of the Center for Rural Education, part of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, will present the Supporting Autism Friendly Environments (SAFE) Award to Tori Thurston, assistant director of marketing and fan experience with Virginia Tech Athletics. Thurston previously was presented the award during the autism friendly SAFE Virginia Tech Women’s Basketball game in December. 

Additional speakers include, Michelle Patriquin, director of research and a senior psychologist at the Menninger Clinic and an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine; Marika Coffman, an assistant professor at Duke University; and Jerry Hulick, founder of the Washington Group Special Care Planning Team. All three are Virginia Tech alumni. Hulick is a longtime supporter of the College of Science and the College of Liberal Arts and is a member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society.

Luke Achenie, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, part of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering, and Amy Azano will also present talks as will Ph.D. candidates Jennifer Bertollo and Megan Fok of the Department of Psychology and David Jones and Shiva Ghasemi of the Department of Computer Science.

The event is sponsored by the Washington Group Special Care Planning Team, Virginia Tech, and the College of Science.