What is the College Autism Network’s Inclusion Summit, and Why Should I Attend?

By Claire Barnett

About the Author

Claire Barnett is the communications coordinator at the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation. She is a 2019 graduate of Vanderbilt University, with a Bachelor of Science in human and organizational development. Claire is an autism self-advocate and proponent of the neurodiversity movement. Last year she founded the Vanderbilt Autism & Neurodiversity Alliance (VANA) and wrote a disability advocacy column for the Vanderbilt student newspaper. If you’d like to speak to Claire, you can find her contact information on the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation website.

Our hope is that this weekly blog will offer information you want to know, so if you have a question you want answered about employment for people with disabilities or other mysteries of the world of work, please email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.

Kids with developmental disabilities grow up to be adults with developmental disabilities.

These children learn and develop new skills as they grow, but they will always have unique needs, and we can’t simply forget about them when they turn 18 or 21. Families, organizations and professionals must continue supporting them as they transition to, and live as, adults.

With that in mind, the College Autism Network (CAN) was created in 2014 by an autism researcher at Florida State University. This nonprofit organization aims to use advocacy, research and teaching to foster true inclusion of autistic young adults in post-secondary education. At colleges and universities, barriers to access have long prevented autistic people from thriving, and the College Autism Network strives to change that.

The College Autism Network’s annual College Inclusion Summit is just over three weeks away, on Oct. 23, 24 and 25, 2019. This year’s Summit is being held in Tennessee, at Vanderbilt University. It is co-hosted by Vanderbilt’s Frist Center for Autism and Innovation. The Frist Center’s mission is to facilitate innovative research and then apply that research to create workplaces that are more inclusive of neurodiversity.

The Inclusion Summit brings together scholars, ASD professionals, college administrators, and perhaps most importantly, autism self-advocates and their families. The aim of the Summit is to explore research-driven ways to support college students with autism and other learning differences. This year’s convention is the third annual meeting.

If you or your family member are on the spectrum and considering post-secondary education, this is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the programs that are out there and the work they’re doing to create welcoming and supportive spaces. The conversation will include everything from college programs for students with intellectual disabilities to community colleges to universities.

At 4:30 p.m. on the opening afternoon of the Summit, attendees can view a special screening of the new film Autism Goes to College. That screening will be followed by the opening reception and keynote address. The next day, Oct. 24, will be filled with workshops, panels and the opportunity to interact with vendors. There will be one final workshop hour and panel on Oct. 25.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Jane Thierfeld Brown. Dr. Brown is an assistant clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine, and the director of the group College Autism Spectrum. She has co-authored three books relating to the college experience of autistic people, and her youngest son is an adult on the autism spectrum. To see the full conference schedule, visit the Summit website.

Previous Inclusion Summit participants have shared their praise of the event.

“The Summit is an extraordinary gathering of college autism support professionals,” said Eric Endlich, the founder of Top College Consultants. “I went last year, and am eager to return.”

John Sheehan, an accommodations specialist at Purdue University Fort Wayne, added this: “Participants in the Summit want to be out front and provide solutions. Life on the spectrum is challenging enough. If colleges can help in this regard, we have the obligation to take that opportunity and make every effort to meet those challenges head on.”

Many Summit participants who are traveling to attend will be staying at one of three local hotels – the Hilton Garden Inn-Vanderbilt, the Hampton Inn-Vanderbilt, and the Holiday Inn-Vanderbilt. Each of these hotels provides shuttle service to Vanderbilt’s campus. If you would like to connect with a roommate, you can email the College Autism Network for help finding one.

Conference check-in will begin at noon on Oct. 23 and the closing session will wrap up at noon on Oct. 25. The deadline to submit your registration is Wednesday, Oct. 16. You can register here.

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My thanks to Claire for highlighting the College Autism Network and the upcoming Inclusion Summit. This sounds like a wonderful opportunity for students and families to learn about options for post-secondary education and to network as they search for the right college fit.

If you have questions, you can always email me at janet.shouse@vumc.org.