Monday, October 8, 2012

Strength, Respect and Autcom

Last Friday and Saturday I went to the Autism National Committee’s annual Autcom conference. It was one of those experiences that I can’t quite put words to, but that left me profoundly moved.
Me = mind, expanded.

You guys, I don’t know that I have ever been among people who were so universally accepting and respectful. The true diversity in that room was astonishing. The respect and strength of the presenters and attendees was incredible. Some of, maybe all of, these presenters—most on the spectrum themselves—have been through some shit. And there they were, standing in front of groups of people telling them to stand tall and keep walking.

It was a really…nourishing experience.

Ariane Zurcher was there and wrote about it, better than I will here.

I had met a lot of the people who were there. Many of them I’d never met, but I’ve read their words. Some of them I met for the first time. Some of them I quietly fan-girled at from across the room. A couple of them are people I consider actual, real-life friends. All of them were tremendous. I wasn’t very good at approaching people at this conference, but a lot of very nice people talked to me, which was great. Thank you to my old friends and new friends who were there. It was wonderful to be with you.

I was incredibly affected by Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette, advocates and stars of Wretches & Jabberers. They typed as presenters at several panels as well as part of a Q&A session after a screening of their movie, which I hadn’t seen before.

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Harvey Lavoy, Tracy Thresher, Pascal Cheng & Larry Bissonnette at the Q&A about their movie.
Watching the two of them riff off of each other and the audience was phenomenal. I made sure to attend a presentation on facilitated communication that they led the next day. There were some kids in that presentation (who skate with Jack, actually) that use facilitated communication. Watching the affect that Tracy and Larry had on those kids is something I won’t forget.

I had lunch with them the next day, as well as with CJ and Laura-Sun from The Musical Autist and a very nice woman who was there as an aide for some attendees. What an incredible group. I spent some time talking/typing with Larry about his travels and his art. It was a really meaningful conversation for me.

I came home and ordered the movie and the soundtrack first thing. Everyone that comes to my house is going to be required to watch it. You won’t be sorry either. These guys have a really important message about presuming intelligence and understanding that not being able to talk verbally is not the same as not being able to communicate or not having anything to say.

I know this isn’t the most coherent post I’ve ever written. I think it is because my words aren’t ready. I’m still thinking over a lot of what I heard and saw at that conference. It will take me a while. It was profound. I can’t think of anyone—touched by autism or not—that couldn’t benefit from going to a conference like this. I especially can’t think of a parent of an autistic child that couldn’t benefit from going to a conference like this. It was eye-opening and soul-strengthening in a lot of ways.

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