3rd Annual Autism Conference returns to Etowah County

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By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor

When Mamta Mishra’s son Parag was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), she felt alone and unsure where to begin. She prayed daily and she did everything she knew to do. She relied on her husband for support and slowly began building a tribe of people who would be there for her and her son.

That was over 20 years ago. Now, Mishra has a degree in special education and is an outspoken advocate for people with ASD. Her goal is to bring awareness to the amazing things people with ASD can do if they have the right tools and the right teacher.

Parag, who is now 29 years old, is a crafty and artistic young man. He makes candles and skin care products using natural products and sells them in local stores and online. He also recently took up painting. He began painting in abstracts before he started bringing landscapes to life on canvas.

“Watching him paint is wonderful,” Mishra said. “I show people the videos of him painting so they know that he is doing it and that he can do it. He will start painting and I will have no idea what it is he is doing. He uses paintbrushes and sometimes things from around the house. He will walk around until he finds the perfect thing to use to get the right texture. He’s used a fork before.”

Mishra is a proud mother and enjoys showing off the paintings Parag completes. He uses just about any tool he can to get the canvas to look just right. Sometimes a fork to create trees, sometimes the handle of paintbrushes to add details, other times he will take his mother’s shower loofah to sponge on layers of colors to create flowers.

Mishra knows that Parag is done with a painting once he signs his name.

“I will look at one [painting] and think he is done,” Mishra said. “I will ask him if he is done and say, ‘Will you sign your name?’ and he will say ‘No.’ and I will know that he is still adding to it.”

Mishra said that Parag often paints his masterpieces upside down.

“Only when he flips it around will I see that it is our backyard or a sunset from Alaska or some other such thing. He flips it the right way and signs his name. It is just fascinating to see how our minds work differently.”

Mishra tells Parag’s story often as a way of showing what individuals with ASD can do. She is helping other parents and caregivers learn about the disorder and how they can best care for people with it. She specifically hopes to teach others about the important of vocational training for people with ASD.

“Vocational training and workforce training are so important,” Mishra said. “They go through school and when they are finished, then what? What will they do? What will they do when their caregivers are no longer there? Independence is important and teaching those skills is vital. I often ask parents I am counseling why they want to teach their child a certain thing. For us, we taught Parag colors because we wanted him to be able to sort his own laundry.”

Mishra hopes that through Parag’s story and conferences, people begin to see what is possible. For that reason, Mishra began the annual Autism Spectrum Conference in Gadsden. She also began a foundation called Autism Foundation of Gadsden Alabama.

“Our goal is to bring hope and happiness for people with autism and their families,” Mishra said. “To make people hopelessly hopeful.”

Gadsden Regional Medical Center and Gadsden State Community College are also affiliated with the conference.

This year’s conference will be held Saturday, April 20 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at The Venue at Coosa Landing. The theme this year is “Together We Can Make A Difference.”

Attendees who are medical professionals or teachers can claim up to six hours of continuing medical education or continuing education units for the conference.

The target audience is not limited to just educators and medical professionals. Mishra wants caregivers, social workers and first responders to attend.

The cost to attend is $60 per person and the registration fee includes a light breakfast and a boxed lunch, as well as access to the full agenda.

Special speakers will be Dr. Snehal Khatri, Mishra, Dr. Janet L. Bavonese, Dr. Jamila Jenkins and Mark Perkins. The speakers will cover a wide variety of topics such as ADHD and ASD diagnosis, importance of vocational training, supporting students with ASD in higher education, oral health for people with ASD and financial planning for special needs.

There will also a be a question and answer panel at the end of the conference which will feature all guest speakers.

For more information, visit www.asdofgadsden.org or email info@asdofgadsden.org.

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