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HUNTSVILLE Ala. – People with autism often face what’s called the services cliff — support available to them as kids drops off once they turn 18.

A conference in Huntsville is working to make sure teachers and parents are equipped to support adults with autism. That means being able to talk about sometimes “taboo” subjects like puberty, sexuality, relationships.

“All of those things become even more complex and difficult to deal with,” said Dr. Whitney Meade, the director of the Regional Autism Network Director.

The first North Alabama Regional Autism Network conference tackles those subjects head-on. Meade is an assistant professor of education at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. She said the lack of support for autistic adults is partially a funding issue but also comes from the community’s lack of knowledge.

“We have lots of individuals in the autism community who have full-time jobs, have PhDs, who are married and have families. But I think people just don’t realize the true capabilities and the true talents of those that have autism,” she said.

A speaker at the conference, Stephen Shore, is a special education professor at Adelphi University.

“We need to turn away from what I call the charity model of hiring the poor autistic person, because ‘they won’t be able to work anywhere else, and we don’t really need the position anyways.’ To looking at autism from the viewpoint of strengths and abilities,” said Shore.

He said talking about success in college and the workforce is important but also talking about success in relationships.

“Yeah it’s a dirty job, and John Wayne ain’t available so I got to do it,” Shore said. “And I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that the diversity of relationships that we find in the autism spectrum mirrors the diversity that we find in the general population.”

The conference is meant to help parents, those who identify as autistic, and teachers learn more about autism in adults.

“I have the younger kids with autism. But eventually they grow up and I want to be able to give my students’ parents the resources that they’ll need to support them as they age,” said Julia Nagle, a special education teacher at Columbia Elementary School.

They said the goal is to make it so autistic individuals are productive, successful and fulfilled as the rule, not as the exception.

The conference continues at UAH Friday. The training is free to attend with online registration.