Friday, October 22, 2010

Report on Autcom 2010

It was a dream come true. My friends from Autcom gathered here in my home state of Wisconsin to share their stories. I might have dreamed that thousands would show up to participate, but that would have been more than a little unrealistic. The actual number was probably somewhere between 100 and 200, but the energy generated by this small but enthusiastic crowd was truly exhilarating. Rather than repeat my comments from last year's Autcom gathering, may I suggest that you look back in this blog for postings from September and October 2009.

This year was special to me personally for many reasons. Bringing the event to Milwaukee was a highlight, for sure, and I am eternally grateful to Sandi McClennen, Judy Endow and Jane Pribek for making it happen - and happen as well as it did! I was also able to participate in the selection of presentations and tried throughout the process to find the right balance of topics and speakers so as to best meet the needs of everyone on the autism spectrum who might want to attend. We've gotten lots of positive feedback and that feels good. Hard work pays off - usually! Thanks also to people like Michael McClennen and Phil Schwarz for all their efforts to keep us connected and operational!

I know two of the keynote speakers quite well and have heard them speak in the past, so I was not at all surprised with the topnotch quality of what Judy Endow and Paula Kluth had to share with the group. I was, however, new to the ideas and experiences of Suzanne Oliver, who talked about the importance of rhythm in the lives of people with autism. Seeing some of her techniques in action with people I know who struggle with movement differences was very powerful. See more at:

It was a thrill to share in the debut of two books by local authors and very good friends. Sally Young's book "Real People, Regular Lives" tells in great detail some of the many success stories of those who have found a voice by using Facilitated Communication. Roy Bedward's book "Communication Makes or Breaks a Life" is a beautiful compilation of his art, poetry and prose. I am so proud to know both of these people and so grateful for the contribution they are making to a better understanding of autism.

From nearby Iowa, DJ Savarese came to share with us the work he is doing, along with Rob Rooy (Rooy Media) to produce a documentary of DJ's life as a high school student who types to communicate - and certainly has a lot to say! DJ's story has been told in book form also ("Reasonable People").

I wasn't able to attend myself, but I heard that Nick Pentzell and Jacob Pratt did an outstanding job of educating and entertaining those who were present at their session, which they entitled, "Rated 'R': That Oh-So-Difficult-Topic."

And so many more concurrent sessions - as always, it's impossible to participate in all of them.

I was privileged to read to the audience a letter I had received from a friend in Canada (see previous blog, dated earlier today) and doubly privileged to serve as moderator for a panel presentation that included DMan Johnson, DJ Savarese, and Daniel McConnell. All three of these young men have had their lives changed dramatically by their access to Facilitated Communication, and those in attendance were kept spellbound by the profound thoughts they had to share. I know Daniel quite well, and was especially proud of his ability to "speak" in front of a group in this way and then take questions from the audience - once again, helping all of us to move forward in our understanding of autism. DJ has now become a seasoned presenter, but it's relatively new for Daniel and DMan - all three did an outstanding job. They stressed the importance of believing in people who are unable to speak, along with being very persistent and never giving up.

Earlier, I had the opportunity to introduce Roy Bedward (See above description of his new book and blog posts from 11/1/09 and 7/18/10)and knew he would do a great job with his PowerPoint story of his life. What Roy likes best is the opportunity to take questions from the audience. It was a thrill to hear that a presentation he gave over two years ago has had a life-changing effect on a young man whose speech therapist was moved by what Roy had to say! Exciting also to hear him give encouragement to a person supporting someone who is nonverbal and learned to type almost 20 years ago, but has not typed for some eight years now. That same young man typed two full sentences with me personally the next day. We can make this work!

I was very proud of two of my young friends who were able to attend the whole conference and will no doubt someday soon be giving presentations themselves. I give lots of credit to their families for making this possible, as well as the hotel staff and conference planners who made the environment very autism-friendly.

I will write in a future blog some of my thoughts about a very special panel presentation given by some of the autism moms I know. They chose a roundtable format to talk candidly about some of the frustrations (and joys) involved in finding the right supports and services for a child - or adult - who is nonverbal. A very difficult topic that needs a lot more attention.

While I found myself totally exhausted once the conference had ended, I really did want it to go on forever. I do hope even more of you will be able to participate in the future.

Guest Blog - from Aaron to his friends at Autcom

A message from Aaron Greenwood, Alberta, Canada
Age 13; Grade in school: 7
Using FC with his mom, Suzanne

autcom conference 2010

hello everyone ,

i am so happy to have this opportunity upon me to share my thoughts on autism . only on my diagnosis did my life truly sail on to disaster . i was a happy child. now i remember much of my childhood on my family farm . it was a life just like many kids. lots of love and kindness was shown to me.

in freedom i was home . i gave my family a lot of credit for accepting me as i was, not wanting another child . usually my life was happy. now never was there sadness . upon my diagnosis my life changed as lots of people tried to change who i was . i did not want to be changed. most great, just people really realize every autistic person dearly wants only to be free. realizing who they are is a gift from god . the truth is realizing that your child is truly special . not created as broken but created as loving, capable, truly gifted people . god dares to create all of us, perfectly free to be his children. until we realize he does not create garbage, but only gifts of his love, will we ever understand autism . free only to dare to be different ok .

i was never ok with being treated like i needed to change . it is a horrible reality only to have people in power treat you like an object only without asking you or respecting you . in my life my parents always treated me with respect, only in my life outside my home was it different . i have had many people speak for me in my life. i needed only to be listened to . just need people to in love, respect in love. in love only kindness should be your true, just kings of your life . i am so happy to be treated as an intelligent person with much to say in the world . i must emphasize to all parents and caregivers to remember the person inside the body of autism, only love will be treated as ok . of just anyone who feels they must treat us with disrespect, then leave us alone . kindness is shown in respect dear loving family members and friends . love us as we are, not as who you want us to be . kindness is god's way. not realizing who we are in this world is not in god's plan for us all .

fc has been a just wonderful freeing gift. a great tool for me to realize my thoughts and beliefs . i am so most happy to have this form of communication available to me in my world. it has opened up my great voice . in my world, without fc, it was dark and freedom less. i was so lost and alone in my ever sad world . i am so thankful to have char* teach me and my family the importance of fc in the lives of autistic people. in many ways it is so much responsible for where i am today . i also thank gail** for being the first person to show really how wonderful i am in this world . these two people mean so much to me and my family .

i truly think that in this world there is too much hate and truly angry people . only in love can we heal this world. love is the only way . autism is not a curse, not a life ender, not a life killer . i hope to let all of you know that my life has a purpose, a plan, a life's longing to be a part of this world . kindly remember that reality for some is not a reality for others. only that we must respect everyone's place in this world . only then will we lovingly, fantastically, joyfully, freely be allowed to live together . upon my end of my letter thank you for listening to me. kind of you to take the time to hear my ideas .

your friend ,
aaron greenwood

• * Char Brandl (Wisconsin)
• ** Gail Gillingham (Alberta)
• Unedited, except to add some breaks for paragraphs