Adults with autism organized a unique conference taking place in Halifax on Thursday to challenge the misconceptions they face.

Autism is a neurological condition that interferes with communication and social skills. The disorder can range from mild to profound. 

'We are capable of doing things, although we may need a little support here and there and perhaps a lot of understanding.' — Danny Melvin

Autism spectrum disorders affect approximately one in 150 children in Canada, according to Health Canada.

While most autism conferences focus on treating autism in children, the Halifax conference differs in several ways, said Cynthia Carroll, executive director of the Nova Scotia Autism Centre.

"This is the first time in Canada that a conference has really focused on individuals with autism themselves."

Presenters, many of whom are autistic, will talk about employment, independent housing, education and safety to an audience comprised mainly of people with autism.

The Autistic Self-Advocacy Council, a support group, chose the topics, with backing from the provincial autism centre.

Comfort measures

The council went to great lengths to make the conference comfortable for people who can find it difficult to sit through meetings.

"We are capable of doing things, although we may need a little support here and there, and perhaps a lot of understanding," said council president Danny Melvin, who will graduate with a degree in political science this spring.

A quiet room will be available in case anyone feels overstimulated, and support will be provided, including showing people what resources are available for those with autism and their families, Melvin said.

Delegates are also wearing special colour-coded name tags in green, yellow and red to indicate how much they feel like interacting with others, said Dr. Andrea Chernin, who has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of the neurological disorder.

Some professionals are also attending the conference, such as Catherine Rahey, an autism consultant with the South Shore Regional School Board in Nova Scotia.

"It's about us as professionals learning from people who live with autism spectrum disorder, and how we can help them in terms of living their lives fully," Rahey said.

Also on Thursday, Canada's Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced that the federal government will recognize April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day in Canada.