Student
    Annual Conference on disABILITY Turns 20 Impact Banner

    Annual Conference on disABILITY Turns 20

    More than 500 people attended The University of Scranton’s 20th anniversary of the U.S. Conference on disABILITY “Exploring Autism Across the Spectrum: Building Inclusive Communities,” which was held in a virtual format on Oct. 14. The conference, presented by the University’s Panuska College of Professional Studies and the Edward R. Leahy, Jr. Endowment in partnership with AllOne Foundation, was open to the public free of charge. From left are conference co-chairs Rebecca Spirito Dalgin, Ph.D., director of the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, and Lori Bruch, Ed.D., chair of the Counseling and Human Services Department, and Debra Pellegrino, Ed.D., dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies.
    October 29, 2021
    By: Alison D’Mello ’22, student correspondent

     

    The University of Scranton celebrated the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Conference on disABILITY with more than 550 conference attendees, who represented 30 states, including Alaska and Hawaii, and four countries. This year’s conference, which was held in a virtual format on Oct. 14, continued the theme of “Exploring Autism Across the Spectrum: Building Inclusive Communities.”

    The full-day conference culminated with an afternoon presentation titled “The Boy Through His Art” featuring guest speakers Devin Wildes and AJ Paron-Wildes.

    After a brief welcome from the University’s Dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies, Debra Pellegrino Ed.D., the pair greeted the conference attendees and played a short video that gave the audience a brief overview of their story.

    Wildes, now a 26-year-old artist, began displaying symptoms of severe autism as a baby and received a diagnosis at the age of four. His mother, Paron-Wildes, expressed concern for her son’s future, explaining that she was afraid of the difficulties he would face as a result of his disability. She realized that her son’s autism did make him different, but that it was not necessarily a bad thing.

    “Different doesn’t mean you’re less, and in many times different means you’re much, much more,” said Paron-Wildes.

    Paron-Wildes learned that her son has exceptional visual acuity. Though he was primarily nonverbal for the first 14 years of his life, Wildes expressed himself through art. At the conference, he presented a powerpoint of some the pieces he created.

    Ranging from sketches to three-dimensional functional pieces, Wildes impressed the audience with the complexity and depth that each work held. His piece titled “Hideous” showed an intricate display of black and white Zentangle-like lines contained within a vague shape which he explained was a skull. Scattered amongst the pattern, formless facial features, like eyes and lips, could be found in atypical locations on the “skull.”

    At the onset of COVID-19, Paron-Wildes began posting examples of her son’s work on her Facebook page, asking friends and family to send them photos of landscapes for Devin to draw.

    Overwhelmed with responses, Paron-Wildes said that, “In a time of darkness and dreariness, people were telling me ‘I can’t wait to see what Devin is going to draw and what he’s going to make next.’ ... It’s like my beacon of hope on social media.”

    Eventually, Wildes and his mother were able to start a website where his work could be commissioned and sold (devinwildes.com). Since the time the website was launched, Wildes has been able to raise thousands of dollars for INTERACT, the center for visual and performing arts that he attends. This program helps inspire and fund his ability to continue creating art, forming what his mother calls a “circle of giving.”

    At the end of their presentation and remaining consistent with the overall mission of the disABILITY conference, Paron-Wildes pointed out that “every human being has creative value and, if you’re not finding it in them, you are not looking hard enough.”

    The 20th Annual U.S. Conference on disABILITY, presented by the University’s Panuska College of Professional Studies and the Edward R. Leahy, Jr. Endowment in partnership with AllOne Foundation, was open to the public free of charge. The primary sponsor of the conference was UPMC Health Plan and Geisinger was the featured sponsor.

    Edward R. and Patricia Leahy served as honorary co-chairs of the 2021 conference they helped to establish 20 years ago. University of Scranton professors Rebecca Spirito Dalgin, Ph.D., director of the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, and Lori Bruch, Ed.D., chair of the Counseling and Human Services Department, served as conference co-chairs.

     

     

    Alison D’Mello ’22, East Brunswick, New Jersey, is a social media strategies major at The University of Scranton.
    Alison D’Mello ’22, East Brunswick, New Jersey, is a social media strategies major at The University of Scranton.
    Back to Top