Church experts join with a Russian university to educate about autism


More than 300 university faculty members, students, autism center teachers and parents met on campus of the Oryol State University in Russia to listen to presenters and receive training from autism experts during the Oryol Autism Conference.

The event, co-sponsored by the Welfare Department of the Church and the university, brought experts in the field together for two days of learning and instruction on Oct. 27-28.

The lead presenters and trainers were two LDS autism experts, Dr. Thomas Higbee from Utah State University and Dr. Blake Hansen from Brigham Young University. Sister Ronda Menlove of the Russia Moscow Mission (formerly of Utah State University) joined them in presenting to more than 300 university faculty members, students, autism center teachers and parents.

Presentations focused on proven strategies for helping children with autism, positive classroom management and inclusion of children with autism in classrooms. Recently passed Russian laws mandate services for children with autism and inclusion in public school classrooms, creating great interest in autism.

The number of Russian children with autism spectrum disorders is increasing and is similar to the U.S. rate of 1 in 68 children. The majority are boys. This is especially challenging in Russia due to the lack of public education services, specialized programs, and trained personnel available to assist children with autism and their families. It is even more challenging in smaller cities outside of Moscow.

In response to the current needs, Russian nongovernmental charitable organizations are starting autism programs and schools to assist children and families.

In the city of Oryol, Russia (population of about 350,000), an enterprising businessman, Vladimir Butusov, the father of a child with Down Syndrome, recognized the need for specialized education for all children with disabilities — especially those with autism. In 2012 he funded renovation of a building and started the Faith Revival Foundation Child Development Center.

Earlier this year, center director of children’s services and psychologist, Alexey Yakovlevich Yudelevich, attended a family issues conference sponsored by the Europe East Area public affairs office for the Church. He learned about the Church’s worldwide humanitarian effort and asked for help in raising autism awareness and providing training to help children with autism and their families in Oryol.

“This is the first time that a scientific and methodological event of such high ranking has been held in Oryol,” Mr. Yudilevich said. “We are very grateful to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and our American and Russian colleagues for their help with education and professional development for teachers, psychologists, and speech therapists who work with children with autism. We appreciate training for parents as well.”

Oryol State University Rector Dr. Pilipenko Olga Vasilievna held a special meeting with the presenters and Vlad Nechiporov, Europe East Area welfare services manager.

According to Brother Nechiporov, “the representatives of Oryol State University were impressed. They want to continue to develop relationships with BYU and Utah State University.”

Brother Nechiporov spoke personally with several specialists who attended the training. “All of them were very impressed with the quality of the training. I heard the same thing from parents. They told me that they will use the techniques in their interactions with their children who have autism.”

Conference organizers included Elder Brent Crittenden and Sister Marilyn Crittenden, Russia Country welfare volunteers; and Andrey Filimonov, parent of a child with autism and member of the Europe East Area publishing services department.