Understanding Autism: Building Knowledge and Skills for Inclusion, Empathy, and Engagement

Rhonda Schier
Raymond Bloomer
Carol McBryant
Primary contact: Rhonda Schier, Raymond Bloomer, Carol McBryant
Where: Online
May 19, 2021June 23, 2021


Once considered a rare disability, the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) now affects 1 in 54 Americans, making it a more common diagnosis. ASD is a spectrum disorder making it difficult, but not impossible, to generalize strategies for National Park Service staff to engage with visitors with ASD. In this 4-part webinar series, attendees will learn about various characteristics associated with the autism spectrum. Participants will be provided with practical examples and strategies for engaging with ASD visitors that can be practiced across settings. Through this awareness and understanding, the NPS will be better prepared to support individuals on the autism spectrum.

This series will be taught by Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D, the Center Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. She leads IRCA, a statewide program, to build local capacity for families and professionals to address the needs of individuals on the autism spectrum. She focuses her work and research on disability policy, family support, and positive behavior supports.

Time for questions will be allotted at the end of each module, and if you have questions in advance, please include them on the registration form. The series will also be recorded and live captioning will be provided via FedRelay.

Webinar Details

Module 1 – Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): How Will I Know?

March 24, 2021, 2:00 – 3:30 Eastern time

The module will discuss the characteristics that NPS employees will see in people on the autism spectrum. As a result of this module, NPS attendees will learn:

  • Specific characteristics of ASD (what you may see and observe).
  • Strategies and ideas that can be implemented for better in-person and virtual interactions.
  • Recommendations for the Junior Ranger program for accessibility.

Module 2 – Communication/Social Accommodations

April 21, 2021, 2:00 – 3:30 Eastern time

This module will discuss how individuals on the autism spectrum may exhibit challenges in both communicating and exhibiting appropriate social skills. NPS attendees will learn:

  • Specific communication and social challenges of individuals across the autism spectrum.
  • Accommodations to assist in interacting in a manner that supports these challenges.
  • The important role and use of visual supports and social stories.

Module 3 – When Behavior Happens

May 19, 2021, 2:00 – 3:30 Eastern time

This module will discuss de-escalation strategies and proactive approaches to minimize behavioral incidents. Individuals on the autism spectrum may present challenging behaviors across a range of settings. NPS attendees will learn:

  • What specific behaviors may look like and their underlying conditions.
  • De-escalation strategies for challenging situations (what role should you play).
  • Concerns when individuals elope/run and what you should do.
  • Suggestions for avoiding problematic behaviors, including reducing stress and anxiety for individuals.

Module 4 – Sensory Supports

June 23, 2021, 2:00 – 3:30 Eastern time

This module will discuss how individuals on the autism spectrum may exhibit sensory challenges that can make participation across the NPS system challenging, including engaging in multi-media presentations. NPS attendees will learn:

  • Examples of specific sensory challenges (what they look like and what it means).
  • Strategies for supporting sensory challenges.
  • Considerations on supporting individuals in various settings, including interacting with families.

Learning Objectives

See the webinar details above for specific learning objectives for each module.


Target Audience: Open to all NPS employees.

Attendees are encouraged, though not required, to participate in all four learning modules for a full understanding of the subject; each one will cover a different subject matter.

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