A diagnosis of autism can be devastating for a new parent, and when the child gets older, things get even more complicated in the classroom and the community.

How parents, educators and caregivers can help individuals with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD , cope in society is the subject of a forum next month in Martinsburg hosted by West Virginia Universitys College of Human Resources and Education.

Autism in Focus: Best Practices in Home, School and Communityis the name of the forum, which is from 8:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Nov. 12 at the Holiday Inn in Martinsburg.

Keynote remarks will be delivered by Steve Kroupa, who heads the Fayetteville TEACCH Center in Raleigh, N.C., which provides services for parents and caregivers of individuals with autism; and Joan Safran, an Ohio University autism educator who leads programs that prepare teachers to work with youngsters with ASD in general-education classrooms.

WVU s Department of Special Education two years ago established a teaching certification for educators and others who work with people with autism on a daily basis.

The Martinsburg forum is being coordinated by WVU faculty in the department. One of its main goals, WVU special education professor and autism researcher Cathy Galyon-Keramidas said, is to let parents, teachers and caregivers know they arent alone.

It can be totally isolating, she said, for individuals with ASD and their families. More often than not, she noted, people with the developmental disorder have poor language skillsincluding limited or no verbal communication skillsand limited ability to handle many types of social interaction.

While there is no known cure, there are good education strategies that include visual supports and behavioral interventionsmeasures, Galyon-Keramidas said, that can help those individuals become competent learners and productive members to society.

The certification program at WVU allows professionals to learn research-based methods, so they better instruct and interact with individuals with autism.

It takes hard work and dedication as a professional,Galyon-Keramidas said.You never know what it is that just might be the thing that the individual with autism needs to learn and be successful. Even the tiniest successes can be the biggest difference in the world.

Especially with autism cases on the rise in West Virginia and the nation.

While the numbers vary from state to state and study to study, the most recent surveys three years ago by the Centers for Disease Control say around 300,000 American children have been diagnosed with the disorder. That comes out to one in 175.

In West Virginia, health professionals say there were 108 autism cases tallied among Mountain State schoolchildren in 1994. That number jumped to 508 just nine years later in 2003.

Some 1 to 1.5 million people of all ages across the country are believed to have some form of autism, according to the Autism Society of America.

One youngster being taught to say his name or to make eye contact or give Mommy and Daddy a hug is what were after,Galyon-Keramidas said.One youngster, then another after that.

The registration fee forAutism in Focusis $15 for WVU students and $35 for others (lunch is included). Registration is limited to the first 250 participants; the deadline to sign up is Nov. 5.

For more information, contact Melanie Rogers, director of marketing and retention in the College of Human Resources and Education, at ” mbrogers@mail.wvu.edu rel=nofollow> mbrogers@mail.wvu.edu or 304-293-0224.

On the Net: http://www.hre.wvu.edu/hre/college/autismconference/autismconfoverview.htm