H and I were met yesterday morning by Laura Nagle and Susan Marks, and together with Barb Trader: the National Director of TASH, we were driven to the conference location. H and Laura chatted about Star Trek episodes on the drive – an almost instant reveal of their kindred spirits.
What a fabulous 2 days we’ve had! For those of you who may not have been following, here is a brief recap: H and I have been at the Arizona TASH Summer Conference on Inclusion. I presented on inclusive practices… (yes… if you have been following along – you are well aware of this.) and H was invited to attend as well, as a self-advocate.
That boy of mine has exceeded all of my expectations with his skill and resiliency in handling all the unknown (AKA adventure).
We set up his projects and he even spoke to the assembly of all the participants to briefly tell of his Wand Project. This was after a morning of activity, listening to speakers, handling a crowd, and meeting new people in a completely new situation.
So much of his comfort was due to the immense level of acceptance and support for one and all at this conference. Knowing that there was such acceptance put me very much at ease as well, which of course had a positive effect on H.
That line between my own anxiety over my son’s anxiety and behaviour can be pretty blurry at times. As well, it can occasionally be hard to step back from micromanagement mode (a stance which never NEVER seems to help the situation or reduce anyone’s anxiety). We are always wanting the world to accept our kids and understand their differences… but sometimes I might be the one who needs the reminder. Sometimes I feel I am dancing so near a line (or over it) that I do not want to tread upon… but then I am there and Aaaargh – making things worse!
So what I am trying to express here – in my typically meandering way – is that I knew going in that there was an opportunity for H to learn more about acceptance and inclusion – and I also understood that there would be opportunities for my learning.
H was so accepted and appreciated for who he was in the moment! This is what I promote when I work with educators and parents – but what a wonderful thing to feel and experience when it is my child on the receiving end.
By the end of the conference, H had made over $100 selling his wands, and an instructor from the university wanted a copy of his book to use in her work with teaching educators about self-advocacy. Wow!
We attended a few presentations… and there were alternatives for H if things got to be too much. There were times when he took care of his own accommodations.
We also had the honour of being present for the premier screening of the final edit of the film Vectors of Autism: A Documentary about Laura Nagle. (A link for purchase of this will soon be up on my site as we move forward with this project and is already available on Laura’s site here)
Laura was presented with the TASH Legacy Award to acknowledge and honour her for her advocacy work. What a thrill to be there to be a part of recognizing her for the difference she is making in the lives of those with disabilities (and all of us).
Tonight we went for dinner with a number of wonderful people from the conference. We had lots of laughs and H seemed to really enjoy himself. In fact, aside from being a little tired as a result of our late hour getting in last night, this kid has been remarkable.
At one point during dinner H said, “We are nerds… and we’re lovin’ it!” For me this is indicative of his feeling that he has connected to others and feels a deep appreciation for his experience and what he sees as a positive part of his identity.
After dinner we had a look around the video store!! H did his Gollum impression (so awesome!!!) and movie quotes and references were flying about almost at the speed of light.
I know that H has had a marvelous time participating in the Arizona TASH Conference. I asked him what he thought was the best part. His response surprised me not at all: “Meeting Laura… we are both autistic and it is awesome!”
I don’t know where this path will lead for H, but I imagine that his experiences over the past few days will be resonating and shaping him in a positive way as he moves ahead in his teenage years toward adulthood.
Finally, I’d like to express my gratitude to the wonderful folks of Arizona TASH for inviting me to present, for including H as a self-advocate, for your gracious welcome and hospitality, and for the amazing work you are doing to change the world!
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)