TRENTON –Barry Prizant, PhD, CCC-SLP, Adjunct Professor at Brown University and a nationally recognized clinical scholar who has been studying autism spectrum disorders for more than 40 years, will serve as the keynote speaker at the 2019 New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NJSHA) Annual Convention.

The annual event, to be held May 2-3 at the Ocean Place Resort & Spa in Long Branch, brings together more than 800 speech-language pathologists and audiologists from across the state for educational opportunities and to connect with colleagues.

Prizant said speech-language pathologists are pivotal in serving people with autism, as social communication is one of the key struggles that require professional expertise. In 1982, Prizant published one of his first two-part articles, titled “Speech-Language Pathologists and Autistic Children: What is Our Role?”

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“Back then, a lot of speech-language pathologists were not working with children with autism, as many professionals considered it to be a behavioral disorder; thus, it was primarily behavioral psychologists who were working with the children,” Prizant said. “Today, speech-language pathologists play a critical, essential role as a team member in serving individuals with autism.”

Prizant will also be discussing his book, “Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism,” a best-selling “5-Star” rated book on Amazon, the recipient of the 2017 Autism Society of America’s Dr. Temple Grandin Award for Outstanding Literary Work of the Year, and the featured book selected for the United Nations 2017 World Autism Awareness Day.

The book portrays autism as a unique way of being human. Prizant contends the most successful approaches to autism do not aim at fixing a person by eliminating symptoms, but rather by seeking to understand the individual’s experience and what underlies the behavior.

“The book came out almost four years ago and there has been a tremendous word-of-mouth movement,” Prizant said. “It is designed for a mainstream audience and is about what I learned from people with autism and their families over the years.

“It has been gratifying to reach a broad audience, from professionals to parents of newly diagnosed children to parents of adults who have been living with autism for years,” he added. “What is most gratifying is that my book seems to have universal appeal - it has been translated into 15 languages, and has been embraced by autistic people as well.”

Prizant, who will be signing his book at the NJSHA Convention, said so much attention has been given to children with autism for so many years, but what happens when they “age out” of school services? Only 10-15 percent of adults with autism are employed, but many more could have a good quality of life and be employed, if the appropriate supports are in place, he said.

“With early intervention and quality services over many years, there is a payoff in the end for people with autism,” Prizant said. “It is important to understand that it is never too late. I know a young man now in his 30s, thought of as severely ‘impaired’ who never had a paying job, but now with appropriate supports, he is working at a Dollar Tree store and is a valued employee. There’s an important message here: People with autism can lead fulfilling lives but it is our obligation to create opportunities and provide support.”

Prizant also plans to discuss his foray into expressive arts, dance and music that are helping children with autism. He is involved at Brown University in replicating “The Miracle Project,” an expressive arts program developed by Elaine Hall, a parent-professional based in California. Research has demonstrated that such programs greatly improve social communication abilities for people with autism.

Prizant said the prevailing keys to addressing autism are early intervention, ongoing quality programming and family support. By teaching children strong communication skills, it enhances self-confidence and self-determination, prevents problem behavior and supports the development of positive relationships. 

“We are now seeing kids with poor prognoses in the past, who are surprising us constantly,” he said. “One of my favorite quotes from parents is: ‘My child proved the experts wrong, those who gave us little hope.’ There are now numerous examples of children thought to have limited potential who are now going to college. Because of early intervention and quality programming, and the work of speech-language pathologists as an essential part of the team, children and adults on the autism spectrum now are getting better support and services.

“But we have a long way to go in creating more opportunities.”