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Utah parents, educators, physicians and advocates will have a rare chance to mingle with the world's top autism researchers next week.

The International Society for Autism Research will meet in Salt Lake City Thursday through Saturday, the first time the group will have met in Utah.

On Wednesday, though, a one-day pre-conference will give Utahns and those from neighboring states a chance to learn from researchers directly, said Bill McMahon, chairman of the University of Utah's department of psychiatry and a longtime autism researcher.

"It is a very big deal that this is coming to Salt Lake City," McMahon said.

Last year's conference was in San Sebastian, Spain. The meeting is expected to draw 1,700 researchers from Europe, Asia, Latin America and North America.

The 300 slots for Wednesday's workshops are already filled, but those interested can stream the sessions live, for free, by registering at the pre-conference website,

Cheryl Smith, founder of the Autism Council of Utah, called the meeting "a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

"My hope is that we can pick the brains of these prominent autism researchers from throughout the world and apply what we learn throughout the state," Smith said.

McMahon is the chairman of the conference, and Smith served on the committee that planned the pre-conference.

Parents of autistic children, like Smith, are always being told that the cause and cure for autism are not known. "We keep hoping as parents that they're getting close to that," Smith said.

Researchers come from a range of disciplines, McMahon said. For instance, research in developmental psychology, genetics, brain imaging and applied behavior analysis will all be shared at the meeting.

Increasingly, researchers are including adults with autism into the conversation, so they can say what research would help improve their lives, McMahon said.

Two men with autism will be among the speakers on Wednesday.

Those attending the pre-conference workshop are signed up for four different tracks: early intervention, school-age intervention, adults with autism, and medical problems associated with autism, McMahon said.

Twitter: @KristenMoulton —

International Society for Autism Research conference details

P Hosted by the University of Utah Sc hool of Medicine's Psychiatry Dept.

The event will be held May 14-16, 2015. All spots are filled, but live streaming is available >