It was a day of listening, chatting, putting faces to names and even relaxing just a little bit. And I learned some important lessons too:
1. I need to get out more.
2. While much of the material was not new to me, I realised that I need regular reminders so that I can stop slipping back into unhelpful parenting habits. Hearing it in a different way in a new setting and from a different perspective does make a difference.
3. It's good to step away from your child sometimes and see the bigger picture: where and how they fit in to the world of autism. And perhaps how they don't, as well.
4. You always get great insights into autism when you listen to an adult on the spectrum. Today it was Damian Milton from the University of Birmingham, who was diagnosed with Asperger's soon after his son received a diagnosis of autism. Damian's life story was inspiring and he talked about how autistics often believe that they are not listened to or understood in conversations with those who are not on the spectrum. And vice versa. He called this the double empathy problem, but as a minority group it seems to be a bigger problem for those with autism. There was too little time to look in detail at solutions, but helping your child to find his tribe, a group of other people like him, seems to be very important.
5. There are some really great-sounding schools out there, and there were moments that I wanted to stand up and cheer their representatives. Between them, they mentioned many of the things that I'd dreamed off, but have not been able to find or get implemented.
... Whole school training for autism. "Because every teacher will be teaching these kids".
... A lunchtime club with an opportunity for sensory processing activities that improve regulation and thus reduce stress levels in pupils.
... Male classroom assistants.
... Effective home/school communication - parents are given mobile and e-mail details for key contacts.
... Lots of resource and sensory break rooms with a wide variety of equipment including bean bags, IT, allocated desks and even a kitchen.
6. People with autism find it difficult to understand context, and this is the reason for rigid thinking and lack of flexibility, according to a very entertaining presentation by Dutch Educationalist Dr Peter Vermeulen. He called it context blindness, and encouraged parents and educators to help children to find a way around it.
7. Autism is a spectrum or continuum, so there are people - including many parents - who are on the cusp of a diagnosis. Yet the discussions used two distinct groups for comparison: those with autism and those without. There is little recognition of the group in the middle with a foot in both camps, and this was my only problem with the talks at this conference.
I had to leave before the end of the day, and I will miss tomorrow's presentations, but a complete blog from the conference will be posted on the AsIAm website.
And a huge thank you to a couple of friends for making it possible for me to take up a last minute ticket to this event.