The Lewis County Autism Coalition’s ninth annual Southwest Washington Autism Conference, held at the TransAlta Commons at Centralia College on Wednesday featured a keynote speaker working to change the way we think about talking to young children about autism.

“This is a world we’re going to have to navigate for the rest of our lives. Yes I’m hurt, yes I’m frustrated, but if things are going to change I have to be part of what that change looks like,” said Holly Bahme-Lytle, founder and executive director of The Isaac Foundation.

The conference featured Holly Bahme-Lytle, 20 workshops on various topics intended to deepen the understanding of autism and provide tools to better navigate the world, and 30 vendors. A lunch was provided by Providence Health and Services. The theme of the 2019 conference was “Cultivating Inclusion: School, Work, Community.”

Bill Weismann, the facilitator of the Lewis County Autism Coalition, said that 320 individuals attended the conference, including participants, speakers, and vendors. This year was the third year the conference was held at Centralia College. The conference had an American Sign Language interpreter as well as a Spanish interpreter so that everyone could fully understand the speakers.

Bahme-Lytle’s foundation, based in Spokane, is dedicated to her son Isaac, who unexpectedly died six weeks before his fourth birthday in 2007. She spoke at the conference about her experiences with autism and what challenges she faced when navigating her community having two sons with autism. 

“I was devastated after I lost my child but I had a lot of comfort in knowing that in the time that I had him I never gave up. I was always fighting and looking for opportunities for us to be part of the community,” said Bahme-Lytle.

Her first born son, Isaac was diagnosed with autism at an early age. Bahme-Lytle spoke about daycare and child library groups turning her and her son away because of a lack of understanding or knowledge about autism. Her youngest son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and she emphasised the things she did differently when explaining autism to her son and choosing schools after gaining knowledge about autism with her first son.

The main message that emerged from Bahme-Lytle’s speech was the concept of inclusion instead of integration. She said she felt that for years her sons had merely been integrated into the school or daycare — never included. She said that language is important when explaining autism to children. She has been an advocate for inclusion at the Isaac Foundation which provides therapy for children, families and siblings affected by autism. 

After Bahme-Lytle concluded her keynote speech, the attendees dispersed to the workshops. The topics of the workshops included Communication Strategies for Families Navigating Special Education, Autism and Puberty, Being an Inclusive School, and Discover Self-Empowerment Tools. 

The presenting sponsor of the conference is the Grocery Outlet Bargain Market. There were many other organizations that acted as sponsors including: Providence Health and Services, Lewis County Public Health & Social Services, Pope’s Place, Molina Healthcare, and many others. 

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