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: www.nmtsa.org
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.